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Bronchopneumonia: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

What is bronchopneumonia?

Pneumonia is a category of lung infections. It occurs when viruses, bacteria, or fungi cause inflammation and infection in the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lung. Bronchopneumonia, or lobular pneumonia, is a type of pneumonia that also causes inflammation in the bronchi. These are the air passages that feed air into the lungs.

Someone with bronchopneumonia may have trouble breathing because their airways are constricted. Due to inflammation, their lungs may not get enough air. Symptoms of bronchopneumonia can be mild or severe.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of bronchopneumonia in adults and children

Symptoms of bronchopneumonia may be very similar to other types of pneumonia. This condition often begins with flu-like symptoms that can become more severe over a few days. The symptoms include:

  • fever
  • a cough that brings up mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing
  • sweating
  • chills
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • pleurisy, or chest pain that results from inflammation due to excessive coughing
  • fatigue
  • confusion or delirium, especially in older people

The symptoms may be especially serious in people with weakened immune systems or other illnesses.

Symptoms in children

Children and infants may display symptoms differently. While coughing is the most common symptom in infants, they may also have:

  • a rapid heart rate
  • low blood oxygen levels
  • retractions of chest muscles
  • irritability
  • decreased interest in feeding, eating, or drinking
  • fever
  • congestion
  • difficulty sleeping

See a doctor right away if you have symptoms of pneumonia. It’s impossible to know which type of pneumonia you have without a thorough exam from your doctor.

Causes

How does bronchopneumonia spread?

Many cases of bronchopneumonia are caused by bacteria. Outside the body, the bacteria are contagious and can spread between people in close proximity through sneezes and coughs. A person becomes infected by breathing in the bacteria.

Common bacterial causes of bronchopneumonia include:

The condition is commonly contracted in a hospital setting. People who come to the hospital for treatment of other illnesses often have a compromised immune system. Being sick affects how the body normally fights off bacteria. Under these conditions, the body will have difficulty tackling a new infection. Pneumonia that occurs in a hospital setting may also be the result of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

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Risk factors

What are the risk factors for developing bronchopneumonia?

Age: People who are 65 or older and children who are 2 or younger have a higher risk for developing bronchopneumonia and complications from the condition.

Environmental: People who work in, or often visit, hospital or nursing home facilities have a higher risk for developing bronchopneumonia.

Lifestyle: Smoking, poor nutrition, and a history of heavy alcohol use can increase your risk for bronchopneumonia.

Medical conditions: Having certain medical conditions can increase your risk for developing this type of pneumonia. These include:

  • chronic lung disease, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • HIV/AIDS
  • having a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or the use of immunosuppressive drugs
  • chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes
  • autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • cancer
  • chronic cough
  • swallowing difficulties
  • ventilator support

If you’re in one of the risk groups, talk to your doctor about prevention and management tips.

Diagnosis

How will your doctor test for bronchopneumonia?

Only a doctor can diagnose bronchopneumonia. Your doctor will begin by conducting a physical exam and asking about your symptoms. They’ll use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing and other abnormal breath sounds. They’ll also listen for places in your chest where it’s harder to hear your breathing. Sometimes, if your lungs are infected or full of fluid, your doctor may notice that your breath sounds aren’t as loud as expected.

They may also send you for tests to rule out other possible causes that could lead to similar symptoms. Other conditions include bronchitis, bronchial asthma, or lobar pneumonia. The tests may include:

Tests Results
Chest X-ray Bronchopneumonia will usually show up as multiple patchy areas of infection, usually in both lungs and mostly at the lung bases.
Complete blood count (CBC) A high number of total white blood cells, along with high numbers of certain types of white blood cells, may indicate a bacterial infection.
Blood or sputum cultures These tests show the type of organism causing the infection.
CT scan A CT scan provides a more detailed look at the lung tissues.
Bronchoscopy This lighted instrument can take a closer at the breathing tubes and take samples of lung tissue, while checking for infection and other lung conditions.
Pulse oximetry This is a noninvasive and simple test that measures the percentage of oxygen in the blood stream. The lower the number, the lower your oxygen level.
 
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Treatment

How do you treat bronchopneumonia?

Treatment options for bronchopneumonia include both at-home treatments and medical treatments by prescription.

At-home care

Viral bronchopneumonia normally doesn’t require medical treatment unless it’s severe. It typically improves on its own in two weeks. Bacterial or fungal causes of bronchopneumonia may require medication.

Medical treatment

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if a bacterium is the cause of your pneumonia. Most people begin to feel better within three to five days after starting antibiotics. It’s important that you finish your entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning and to make sure it completely clears.

In cases of a viral infection like influenza, your doctor may prescribe antivirals to help reduce the length of your illness and the severity of your symptoms.

Hospital care

You may need to go to the hospital if your infection is severe and you meet any of the following criteria:

  • you’re over age 65
  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you have chest pain
  • you have rapid breathing
  • you have low blood pressure
  • you show signs of confusion
  • you need breathing assistance
  • you have chronic lung disease

Treatment in the hospital may include intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids. If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may receive oxygen therapy to help them return to normal.

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Complications

Complications

Complications from bronchopneumonia can occur depending on the cause of the infection. Common complications can include:

  • blood stream infections or sepsis
  • lung abscess
  • buildup of fluid around the lungs, known as a pleural effusion
  • respiratory failure
  • kidney failure
  • heart conditions such as heart failure, heart attacks, and irregular rhythms

Treatment in infants and children

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your child has a bacterial infection. Home care to ease symptoms is also an important step in managing this condition. Make sure your child gets enough fluids and rest. Your doctor may suggest Tylenol to reduce fevers. An inhaler or nebulizer may be prescribed to help keep the airways as open as possible. In severe cases, a child may require hospitalization to receive IV fluids, medication, oxygen, and respiratory therapy.

Always ask your child’s doctor before giving cough medications. These are rarely recommended for children younger than age 6. Read more about hygiene habits for kids.

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Prevention

How to prevent bronchopneumonia

Simple care measures can reduce your risk of getting sick and developing bronchopneumonia. Read more on the right way to wash your hands.

Vaccinations can also help prevent certain types of pneumonia. Be sure to get your annual flu shot, as the flu can cause pneumonia. Common types of bacterial pneumonia can be prevented by the pneumococcal vaccines. These are available for both adults and children. Talk to your doctor to determine if these vaccines could benefit you or your family. Read more on vaccine schedules for infants and toddlers.

Outlook

What’s the outlook for bronchopneumonia?

Most people who have bronchopneumonia recover within a few weeks. How long it takes to recover depends on several factors:

  • your age
  • how much of your lungs has been affected
  • the severity of the pneumonia
  • the type of organism causing the infection
  • your overall health and any underlying conditions
  • any complications you may have experienced

Not letting your body rest can result in a longer recovery period. People who are at a higher risk for this condition may develop severe, life-threatening complications, such as breathing failure, without treatment. See a doctor if you think you may have any type of pneumonia. They can make sure you have the correct diagnosis and are receiving the best treatment for your condition.

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