Although pneumonia remains the leading cause of death amongst Malaysian women, and the second principal cause of death among Malaysian men1, many symptoms of pneumonia are unfortunately mistaken for symptoms of the common cold or a flu2. Since people who catch the flu often feel better within a week3, patients with these flu-like symptoms often experience a delay in pneumonia diagnosis4.
Now, what exactly is pneumonia and how does it affect us?
Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects your lungs. Your lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli. With pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with fluid5.
Streptococcus pneumoniae infection remains the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia worldwide6. However, you can also get pneumonia as a result of viral infections such as COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) or the flu7.
If you’ve been experiencing any of the following symptoms persistently, it’s recommended that you speak to a medical professional to get the right treatment.
1. Inflammation in the lungs
Symptoms of pneumonia and bronchitis may look similar in the form of coughing8. However, pneumonia causes inflammation in the alveoli, whereas bronchitis causes the inflammation of bronchial tubes in the lungs9.
There are some distinguishing symptoms of pneumonia. These include nausea and vomiting, chills and muscle aches, confusion – particularly in senior cases – and rapid, shallow breathing9.
2. Sore throat
A sore throat is a pain, irritation, or scratchiness in your throat that usually gets worse when you swallow11. Sore throats can also be caused by colds, the flu, and other viral infections10. Generally, sore throats caused by viruses resolve on their own11. However, this could be a symptom of mycoplasma or walking pneumonia, which is highly contagious when not detected early12.
3. Dry cough
This is an easy symptom to mistake for the common flu13. This is usually caused by viral pneumonia rather than other forms of the disease14. Coughing arises as a result of the fluid in your alveoli15.
Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio @ Pexels
Also considered a common symptom of the flu, this usually is a symptom of viral pneumonia13.
Should you find yourself suffering from chronic or persistent headaches, do consult a doctor to identify any underlying causes and to receive relevant treatments.
5. Bluish colour to lips & fingernails
Classified as cyanosis, which refers to a bluish discolouration of the skin16, these are generally indicators of an underlying condition17. The discolouration is caused by the lack of oxygen being carried through your tissues, which causes your hemoglobin to darken in colour17. With pneumonia causing the swelling of airways and mucus build up in your lungs, this makes oxygen intake harder, which results in the bluish hues observed14.
6. Cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody sputum
Sputum, a thick mucus also known as phlegm, is produced when your lungs are diseased or damaged. Unlike normal mucus, which serves to protect and keep respiratory tissues moist, phlegm is an excess of mucus produced in cases of infection18. The colour of green or yellow phlegm comes from your white blood cells and is usually a sign that your body is fighting an infection19.
It’s also common to see phlegm that is initially yellow slowly progress into green phlegm, influenced by the severity and length of your potential sickness19. Sometimes sputum can have visible steaks of blood in it. The blood comes from somewhere along your body’s respiratory tract20.
Photo credit: Polina Tankilevitch @ Pexels
Fevers, which activate your body’s immune system, are the sign that your body is trying to kill the virus or bacteria causing an infection21. Due to your elevated body temperature, it triggers cellular mechanisms to ensure our immune systems take appropriate action against the offending virus or bacteria22.
8. Heavy or excessive sweating
Also known as hyperhidrosis, this may be a symptom of several medical conditions23. Profuse sweating can be a symptom of a fever caused by bacterial pneumonia15.
9. Loss of appetite
Infections such as pneumonia can cause a marked reduction in your desire to eat. These usually go away once the underlying conditions or infections, which is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, have been treated24.
10. Low energy and extreme tiredness
The inflammation and swelling, as well as the mucus accumulation, can make it harder for air to move through your airways, thereby making it harder to breathe. Because of this, you may experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and feel more tired than normal14.
Photo credit: cottonbro @ Pexels
Early detection & pneumonia prevention
When it comes to treatment, early diagnosis of pneumonia is crucial.25
However, to effectively curb the spread of pneumonia, prevention is still better than cure. Immunisation has been shown to reduce the prevalence of pneumococci by reducing the strains resistant to antibiotics.26
On top of this, practice good hygiene by washing your hands often with warm, soapy water, and be conscious of your general health through maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate rest.27
If you’re from a group that’s a higher risk of contracting pneumonia – be it an adult above the age of 65 years old, or an adult with underlying health conditions and comorbidities28 – it is imperative to receive the proper vaccinations.29
For more information on pneumococcal vaccinations, or if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed, do reach out to a healthcare professional to get the medical attention and advice you need.
1. Statistics on Cause of Death, Malaysia, 2020 | https://tinyurl.com/67wwab2z | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
2. Influenza and Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/2p82mx6k | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
3. Flu, NHS | https://tinyurl.com/8nmf9fdr | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
4. A Hospital-based Study on the Local Epidemiology of Pneumonia Including the Contribution of Legionella Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/4um8zunx | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
5. Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/2p8n7zas | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
6. Serotype Distribution of Invasive, Non-Invasive and Carried Streptococcus pneumoniae in Malaysia: A Meta-Analysis | https://tinyurl.com/547wfyws | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
7. Coronavirus and Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/4w39d2af | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
8. What’s the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/c263466u | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
9. Is it Bronchitis or Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/nee4kf3r | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
10. Sore Throat 101: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments | https://tinyurl.com/yetvaydr | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
11. Sore throat - Symptoms and causes | https://tinyurl.com/37vy4h8h | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
12. Could it be Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/4sb7h2m5 | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
13. Pneumonia Symptoms | https://tinyurl.com/hrk2k6f8 | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
14. Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/vfu4ruu3 | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
15. Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis | https://tinyurl.com/7mzwup5f | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
16. Cyanosis - StatPearls | https://tinyurl.com/u4vbx5yn | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
17. An Overview of Blue Lips | https://tinyurl.com/4v8re7ds | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
18. What Can Sputum Tell us? | https://tinyurl.com/5w7yfkdc | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
19. Yellow, Brown, or Green Phlegm: What Does the Color of My Phlegm Mean? | https://tinyurl.com/2u7mf72n | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
20. What Causes Blood-Tinged Sputum, and How Is It Treated? | https://tinyurl.com/yhcjxvep | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
21. Fever | https://tinyurl.com/5599ddjm | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
22. Why Fever Can be Your Friend in Times of Illness | https://tinyurl.com/n8rfffxv | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021
23. Excessive Sweating (Hyperhidrosis): Symptoms & Signs | https://tinyurl.com/h3n3svtp | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
24. What Causes Loss of Appetite? | https://tinyurl.com/hwfbwfef| Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
25. Early Diagnosis of Pneumonia with Deep Learning | https://tinyurl.com/37p7cwte | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
26. Impact of Existing Vaccines in Reducing Antibiotic Resistance: Primary and Secondary effects | https://tinyurl.com/k8a4r53m | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
27. 5 Tips for Preventing Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/x5398dka | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
28. Causes and Risk Factors of Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/22vhjbpy | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021
29. Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know | https://tinyurl.com/2p94kb26 | Accessed 22 Dec 2021
The health information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.