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Why early diagnosis of pneumonia in kids matters

According to the American Thoracic Society, pneumonia is both the world’s leading cause of death among children and the top reason for children to be hospitalized. And since this lung infection is not caused by a single microbe that can be easily avoided, it’s important for parents to stay vigilant. New pneumonia risks are constantly developing, and the condition can have long-term consequences that no parent wants for their child. It’s essential to catch pneumonia symptoms early, and even more so when you consider that most symptoms bear more than a passing resemblance to flu symptoms. That’s what makes a diagnosis by a qualified medical professional, like ours at DispatchHealth, so important.

Pneumonia symptoms & when to seek treatment

It can be tough to spot pneumonia symptoms early because they so closely resemble many of the symptoms caused by the flu (and even the common cold). Also, when it comes to illness, kids are often more resilient than adults, and parents sometimes don’t even notice that something is wrong. After all, children with walking pneumonia might sleep normally, eat normally, and have totally normal bowel movements. 

So how do you catch pneumonia in kids, then? Here are a few signs and symptoms to stay on the lookout for:

  • Labored breathing or wheezing
  • Rib or chest pain
  • A cough that lasts more than a week
  • A low-grade fever
  • Headache or body aches
  • Sweating or chills
  • Phlegm production while coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A stuffy nose

Not all children experience these symptoms at the same time, either. That’s what makes an early diagnosis super important. The location of the pneumonia within the lungs can make a difference in symptoms, too. If the pneumonia is located in the lower lungs, a child might not experience any breathing problems, which is one of the biggest indicators of pneumonia. Instead, they might experience abdominal pain, vomiting, or a higher fever. And since the location of the pneumonia can’t be found without the help of a qualified medical professional, it’s best not to assume your child’s symptoms are simply a cold or the flu. Seeking a diagnosis and treatment from your doctor, or our qualified team at DispatchHealth, is the best way to catch pneumonia early so treatment can be more effective.

What causes pneumonia in children?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by a number of different bacteria. It can also be caused by a virus or even certain fungi. It often starts as an upper respiratory tract infection, showing symptoms in the nose and throat. It then moves down into the lungs, filling the air spaces with fluid. This blocks the passage of air, restricting lung function.

Among children, walking pneumonia is one of the most common types, caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. This type of pneumonia has been found to occur in 3-5 year cycles, which means that if there’s an outbreak in your area, you could notice another one in 3-5 years. This knowledge can help you stay extra vigilant around those times.

Besides Mycoplasma pneumoniae, other common pneumonia-causing bacteria and viruses include:

  • Group B streptococcus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Influenza virus

You’ll notice that the influenza virus is listed as one of the most common pneumonia-causing viruses out there. If your child has the flu, be mindful that their risk of contracting pneumonia is raised. Children living in homes where the adults smoke cigarettes are also at higher risk of catching pneumonia, along with kids who live in areas with high levels of air pollution or homes with crowded spaces and minimal fresh air. If your child has a weakened immune system, sickle cell disease, or chronic heart, kidney, lung, or liver disease, they also may be at higher risk of pneumonia.

How to prevent pneumonia in children

Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to help prevent this potentially-fatal disease from affecting your child. Top pneumonia prevention methods include:

  • Vaccination. Most doctors recommend vaccination for kids starting at two months of age. Talk to your doctor about available vaccines for pneumococcal pneumonia. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine protects against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, recommended for children ages two years and up, protects against 23 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. And since kids with the flu are at higher risk for contracting pneumonia, consider vaccinating your child yearly with a flu shot, as well.
  • Good hygiene. Teaching your child good hygiene habits is essential for preventing the spread of pneumonia. Since there are so many ways pneumonia can be contracted—bacteria, viruses, fungi—it’s important to safeguard against its contagiousness as best as possible. Teach your kids to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom, eating, or playing with shared toys at school.
  • Quit smoking. Pneumonia affects the lungs and the respiratory tract. If the lungs or respiratory tract are weakened due to secondhand smoke, the risk of contracting pneumonia increases. Studies have shown that children who live in homes where adults smoke are at higher risk of contracting respiratory illnesses.

If left untreated

As stated above, pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children, and the leading cause of hospitalization among children in the U.S. If left untreated, your child’s pneumonia could have disastrous consequences.

Catching pneumonia early is one of the best things you can do for your child. Pneumonia presents the possibility of long-term complications, too, including:

  • The development of severe breathing problems, or other respiratory illnesses, such as COPD and asthma
  • The exacerbation of existing respiratory and immune illnesses
  • The possibility of bacteria entering the bloodstream, known as septicemia

Don’t let your child’s pneumonia go untreated. At DispatchHealth, we can help. We’ll come to your home to diagnose and treat your child’s pneumonia so you can avoid visiting crowded ER or urgent care waiting rooms. Let your child get the rest they need and seek in-home treatment today. We accept most major health insurance carriers, including Medicare and Medicaid, and also offer a flat rate for people who are uninsured. Our services cost a fraction of what a visit to the emergency room would. Get in touch with us via our app, a phone call, or online to request care.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell MD, MS on October 3rd, 2019

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