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Bronchopneumonia: symptoms, causes and diagnosis

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Bronchopneumonia is a lower respiratory tract infection characterized by widespread inflammation in the lungs. This subtype of pneumonia is caused by bacteria and is found mainly in children.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of bronchopneumonia.

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Symptoms

Symptoms of bronchopneumonia and its severity vary widely. Your symptoms may be more severe if you fall into one of the following high-risk categories:

  • You are immunocompromised.
  • You are under 5 years old.
  • You are over 65.
  • You have a pre-existing health condition or comorbidity, especially one that affects the lungs.

Symptoms of bronchopneumonia can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that may be worse when coughing or breathing deeply (inspiration)
  • Productive cough (spitting up mucus or phlegm)
  • Muscle aches
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Confusion or disorientation, especially in older people
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)

causes

Bronchopneumonia is a lung infection of the lower respiratory tract mainly caused by bacteria, such as:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Escherichia coli (E.coli)

In rare cases, viruses such as SARS CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and fungi, such as Aspergillus fumigatuscan also cause bronchopneumonia.

Diagnostic

Bronchopneumonia is a clinical diagnosis based on your symptoms and chest X-ray results.

Diagnosis of bronchopneumonia always begins with your healthcare provider performing a thorough clinical history and focused physical exam, listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope for wheezing and other breath sounds. abnormal.

Initially, blood tests looking for signs of infection – such as a complete blood count (CBC) – and a chest X-ray may be ordered.

Bronchopneumonia has a very distinct appearance on chest X-rays, often looking like patchy consolidations involving one or more lobes (sections of the lungs). Inflammation and its by-products (neutrophil exudates) are usually centered in the bronchi (airways in the lungs) and bronchioles (smaller airways that branch off from the bronchi), which spread to adjacent alveoli (tiny air sacs).

An assessment of your oxygen levels and oxygen flow throughout your body will also be done using pulse oximetry and arterial blood gas testing.

If you have a productive cough (spitting up phlegm), a sputum culture, which analyzes the mucus for signs of bacterial infection, may be done.

Additionally, your healthcare provider may perform a bronchoscopy, a fairly common procedure that involves passing a thin tube with a light and camera through your mouth, down your windpipe, and into your lungs. This looks for signs of infection and suspicious areas that warrant closer examination by biopsy (removal of a sample of tissue for laboratory examination).

Treatment

Bronchopneumonia is usually caused by bacteria, so it can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics.

However, choosing the right antibiotic is very important, especially with the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that prevent once-effective drugs from killing them. Your healthcare provider can use a sputum culture to determine which antibiotic is most effective in clearing up your infection.

Prevent bronchopneumonia

Vaccines prevent infection with certain germs and are therefore an effective way to reduce the risk of developing bronchopneumonia. This is especially useful when the cause is a virus.

Prognosis

The outlook for bronchopneumonia is generally good, but it depends on many factors, including:

  • Age
  • Medical background
  • Hospital environment

If you are generally healthy, your symptoms will usually resolve within one to three weeks with treatment.

While more severe cases of bronchopneumonia may require hospital treatment, most cases can be treated with rest, outpatient antibiotics, and routine monitoring.

When to See a Health Care Provider

In severe cases, bronchopneumonia can lead to lung abscesses, the formation of pus-filled pockets in an area of ​​the lung. Sometimes the infection spreads to the pleural space (the fluid-filled cavity surrounding the lungs), filling it with pus (also called exudate) and forming an empyema (a collection of pus). Symptoms of emphysema can include:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever and chills
  • Excessive sweating, especially night sweats
  • General discomfort, malaise or feeling sick (malaise)
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Chest pain, which gets worse on deep inhalation (inspiration)

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, or if your symptoms do not improve despite taking your medications as prescribed, seek medical help immediately.

Summary

Bronchopneumonia is an infection of the lower respiratory tract of the lungs which is usually caused by bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and is characterized by generalized inflammation of the lungs.

A word from Verywell

Results for people with bronchopneumonia who are generally healthy are positive, but frequent use of antibiotics has led to an increase in bacterial resistance. Serious complications can result from increasing bacterial resistance and late or difficult diagnosis. Therefore, it is important to see a health care provider if you feel ill or if you have been in contact with someone who has had a bacterial infection in the days or weeks before your symptoms started.