A cough caused by pneumonia — a pneumonia cough — is not unlike a cough from a common cold or flu. Where they differ is that pneumonia can go on to develop complications and pose some serious health risks.
So, while pneumonia sounds just like a cold, it’s far from it. It’s important to look at what symptoms surround your cough to determine whether it’s pneumonia.
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This will depend on the type of pneumonia you have and be either a dry or chesty cough. Bacterial pneumonia is more serious and often results in a gurgling sound when breathing and mucus or phlegm when coughing.
If you are experiencing a cough and are concerned that it may be pneumonia, reach out to your doctor. If you leave it untreated, pneumonia can get a lot worse, so it’s not something you want to ignore.
Along with a cough, there are many other symptoms of pneumonia. There are some symptoms that most pneumonia patients experience, some that are less common, and some that are usually found in certain age groups.
Chest pain when breathing or coughing
Shortness of breath
Low oxygen levels in your blood
Bluish skin or lips, grunting, or rapid breathing in babies and young children
Pulling inward of the muscles in between ribs with each breath, in babies and young children
Confusion or dizziness (in older people)
You won’t be able to identify pneumonia just from the cough. But as there are a collection of symptoms common to pneumonia, you could look at what other symptoms you are experiencing. If you feel like you have them all, it’s best to book a doctor's appointment.
Also, looking at your cough in terms of the progression of your sickness could be helpful. Other respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu, or even the coronavirus, all have the potential to cause the development of pneumonia. So, if you have been dealing with cold and flu symptoms for a while — specifically a cough — and you’ve noticed it has changed or become worse, this could be a sign of pneumonia.
If you have any concerns, the best thing to do is seek medical attention. Your doctor will be able to do some tests to look at all your symptoms and help diagnose pneumonia.
When you go to the doctor, they will diagnose based on your symptoms, medical history, and test results. They will look at how your illness and symptoms have progressed and if you have any risk factors.
The main risk factors include:
Other medical conditions
Environmental exposures such as toxins
Lifestyle factors such as smoking or drinking alcohol
The main tests they will do include:
A chest x-ray looks at inflammation in the lungs (This test is usually based on a diagnosis.)
Blood tests are used to test your white blood cell count (This shows how your immune system is working and if you have been fighting any infections.)
Pulse oximetry, which is to measure your blood oxygen levels
If you are already in hospital with other medical conditions or are presenting with serious symptoms, your doctor may do more intense testing.
In mild cases, pneumonia can usually be treated at home. You should get plenty of rest and look after yourself while you recover. Steps to help recovery include the following:
Get plenty of rest and sleep
Drink water and stay hydrated
Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking
Eat healthy food
Sit upright to help with coughing
In severe cases, you may need to be hospitalized. A hospital can provide you with intense antibiotic treatment, oxygen therapy, and a ventilator. You may require oxygen therapy to help increase the oxygen level in your blood and a ventilator to help you breathe.
Pneumonia doesn’t have a distinctive cough that you can use for diagnosis. While a cough is a main symptom of pneumonia, it is also common for many other respiratory illnesses. Looking at your other symptoms, how long you’ve been sick, and if your cough or condition has deteriorated is the best way to know if you might have pneumonia.
If you have any concerns, seek medical attention.
Everybody will have different symptoms depending on their age, medical history, and other environmental factors, but some of the most common are:
Cough with or without mucus
Shortness of breath or difficulty taking a breath
Chills or fever
Fatigue, caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood
Pneumonia is a contagious respiratory infection, which means you can catch it from people around you. Pneumonia can also develop from other respiratory infections. So, you could have COVID-19 or influenza (the flu) and then go on to have pneumonia. You can also get it from environmental exposures, such as birds or toxins in the air.