Among the most common childhood illnesses are the common cold, influenza, and RSV which are all treatable and generally easy to manage. However, there is one childhood illness that is both common and dangerous, pneumonia. While pneumonia can be reliably treated here in the US, when left untreated in children and the elderly it can be fatal, which is why it is so important for all parents to understand this common childhood illness. Today we will look at what pneumonia is, when to take your child in to see the doctor, how dangerous pneumonia really is, and some useful prevention tips.
How common is pneumonia?
As mentioned earlier, pneumonia is a very common and highly contagious illness among young children. It has been reported that pneumonia has infected 150 to 156 million children under the age of 5 years in the US alone (Chaunie 2019). Thankfully, because of access to antibiotics and other treatments, pneumonia can be managed and is not as fatal as it once was.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia” (2020). Depending on the severity of the illness symptoms can range from mild to severe. Here are some symptoms that parents should be on the lookout for in their own children (Chaunie 2019):
- A cough that lasts for more than a week
- Chills or aches in the body
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
When should I take my child to the doctor?
Since so many of the listed symptoms are similar to the symptoms you would find for the flu or a cold, we recommend taking children under the age of five in to see their doctor. Especially for infants, illness of any kind, especially pneumonia, can escalate quickly. Doctors will often prescribe antibiotics to treat pneumonia so the sooner you can get your child on antibiotics, the more likely their recovery will go smoothly.
An important note on taking antibiotics, it is very important to follow the prescribed antibiotic treatment at home exactly as it was prescribed. Generally speaking, symptoms will subside 12-36 hours after starting an antibiotic medications and if parents do not take the full antibiotic course as prescribed, the infection could come back (Nationa Wide Children’s Hospital 2019). Following the doctors orders when it comes to proper medication treatment is essential to making a full recovery.
Is pneumonia dangerous?
That’s difficult to answer. Generally, in the US for families with access to treatment, pneumonia is not considered dangerous. However, on a global scale, it continues to leave a deadly impact. UNICEF, also known as the United Nations Children’s Fund, is one of the leading organizations for profiding humanitarian support and aid to children worldwide. Their organization has reposted that pneumonia is the leading infections cause of death among children under the age of five. They estimate that 800,000 children die a year from pneumonia (UNICEF 20108).
What makes these global figures so heartbreraking, is that pneumonia can be managed with access to antibiotics. Families with access to health resources should be able to treat their child should they contract pneumonia with relatively little complications.
How can I prevent my child from getting pneumonia?
Establishing good hygiene practices can significantly reduce the risk for contracting pneumonia. Things like watching hands, sanitizing surfaces, and reducing contact with anyone who has been sick can really help prevent pneumonia from coming into contact with your little one. However, the most effective way to reduce the risk is to get your child vaccinated for pneumonia. In the US, access to a pneumonia vaccine is part of the recommended vaccination schedule, it is called the PCV13 vaccines for childrena nd PCV 23 in adults (CDC 2020). While the vaccine is not a 100% guarantee your child will never contract pneumonia, it can greatly reduce the liklihood of contracting the disease and it can also reduce the severity of the symptoms should they get sick. To learn more about vaccines read on here.
My hope is to never be alarmist when it comes to giving new parents advice. When it comes to pneumonia, it is something that needs to be taken very seriously. When treated effectively, most children will recover just fine. As we’ve stated, the key to tackling pneumonia is early detection so be sure to invest in a good monitor for your little one sooner rather than later.
- Chaunie Brusie. (2019, July 23). Everything You Should Know About Walking Pneumonia in Kids. Healthline.
- UNICEF Childhood diseases. (2018).
- Nationwide Children’s Hospital. (2009). Pneumonia.
- Mayo Clinic. Pneumonia – Symptoms and causes. (2020, June 13).
- CDC (2020) Pneumococcal Vaccination | Center for Disease Control.