What to know about double pneumonia
Doctors sometimes refer to double pneumonia as bilateral pneumonia. Pneumonia is the leading cause of infectious death worldwide among children under the age of 5.
- Double pneumonia affects both lungs; pneumonia affects a single lung.
- It is a serious infection that can be fatal.
- The symptoms of double pneumonia are not distinct from pneumonia.
- People who think they have pneumonia should contact a doctor immediately.
What is double pneumonia?
Double pneumonia infects both of the lungs, and may cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a worsening cough, and a high temperature.
When both lungs are affected, the condition is called double pneumonia. Like pneumonia, double pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
Because double pneumonia affects both lungs, a person may find it extremely difficult to breathe.
It is impossible to tell if a person has pneumonia or double pneumonia based on symptoms alone. Anybody who thinks they may have pneumonia must see a doctor as soon as possible.
Pneumonia often develops after or alongside another respiratory illness. Some people also get pneumonia after exposure to breathing in dust or certain gases, or after getting fluid in their lungs. These situations make it easier for a germ to sneak into a person's body and cause infection.
People who have these risk factors should look out for symptoms of pneumonia. These symptoms include:
- A high fever, chills, or shaking. Rarely, some people develop an unusually low temperature.
- A cough that gets worse.
- Coughing up thick mucus or phlegm.
- Shortness of breath during activities that do not typically induce shortness of breath.
- Chest pain when coughing or breathing.
- Feeling very sick after an acute viral illness, such as the flu or another type of respiratory infection.
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, along with respiratory symptoms.
Complications of pneumonia include:
- Sepsis, an infection that causes systemic inflammation in the body. It is a serious illness that can be fatal.
- Lung abscesses.
- Pleural effusions. The pleurae are two membranes that line the outside of the lungs within the chest cavity. Usually, a small amount of pleural fluid fills the gap between the membranes, but pneumonia may cause an accumulation of this fluid. If there is a buildup of fluid, or it becomes infected, a pleural effusion can cause death.
- Pleurisy. This can occur with pneumonia and happens when the pleural layers become inflamed and rub together. Pleurisy causes pain in the chest when a person takes a deep breathe or coughs.
- Kidney failure or respiratory failure.
What causes double pneumonia?
Factors that increase the risk of developing double pneumonia include being over the age of 65, having asthma, and experiencing a viral infection.
Infections from viruses or bacteria that get inside of the lungs are the most common cause of pneumonia. Less frequently, people may develop pneumonia from inhaling certain fungi.
Double pneumonia occurs when an infecting microbe causes pneumonia in both lungs. Potential causes of pneumonia and double pneumonia include:
- Bacteria: Bacterial pneumonia is the most common cause of pneumonia in adults. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in adults in the United States is Streptococcus pneumonia.
- Virus: The influenza virus is the most common cause of viral pneumonia in adults. RSV is the most common cause of viral pneumonia in very young children. Viral pneumonia increases a person's risk of having a secondary bacterial pneumonia.
- Fungus: This is a less common cause of pneumonia. Someone with a compromised immune system is typically at a higher risk for fungal pneumonia compared to someone with healthy immune system function.
Some people are more vulnerable to pneumonia. Risk factors for double pneumonia include:
- Being over the age of 65.
- Being very young.
- Smoking tobacco.
- Having a lung disease, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cystic fibrosis.
- Having a chronic illness, such as congestive heart failure.
- Having a weak immune system due to illnesses such as HIV, AIDS, and autoimmune disease.
- Taking drugs that suppress the immune system.
- Having difficulties swallowing.
- Recently having a viral infection that affected the upper respiratory tract.
When to seek treatment
Double pneumonia is a serious infection that can become life-threatening. However, it is also treatable. So it is essential to seek treatment early before the infection establishes itself.
Anyone that has difficulty breathing and a high fever should treat it as a medical emergency.
People with risk factors for pneumonia, such as those who have another serious chronic illness, should seek prompt medical care if they experience symptoms of pneumonia.
A doctor can diagnose pneumonia with the assistance of a chest X-ray, blood tests, and a physical exam.
Treatment for double pneumonia depends on what caused it and how it has affected the body:
- People who have bacterial pneumonia will need antibiotic therapy.
- People with severe infections related to pneumonia, such as infectious pleural effusion or sepsis, will need intravenous antimicrobial therapy. Other types of treatment may also be required.
- People with viral pneumonia will not respond to antibiotics, which do not work to treat viral infection.
Other treatments for pneumonia focus on preventing further damage to the lungs and ensuring a person can breathe. Some people may require supplemental oxygen or monitoring in a hospital setting. Rest and remaining hydrated may also help.
While coughing can be unpleasant, coughing helps the body rid itself of the infection.
People who have double pneumonia should not take a cough suppressant medicine unless a doctor recommends doing so.
Recovery and outlook
Resting, and following a prescribed course of treatment, will promote a steady recovery.
With prompt treatment, most healthy people recover from pneumonia. However, pneumonia may not fully resolve if a person rushes the treatment and recovery process.
Take all medication as prescribed and avoid work or any physically taxing tasks for as long as the doctor advises.
People with weak immune systems or other health problems are more likely to have a form of pneumonia that is harder to clear up, recurs, or causes serious complications and death.
Some people develop double pneumonia as a complication of being severely immunocompromised.
It is crucial to tell a doctor about all health conditions and to be honest about lifestyle choices, such as tobacco smoking.
People who are very ill may need to be hospitalized.
If pneumonia symptoms deteriorate, fever gets higher, or a person finds it difficult to breathe, they must contact a doctor or go to the emergency room.
The microbes that get into the respiratory tract may cause pneumonia in some people but not in others. This depends on the individual risk factors of each person as well as the type of germ present.
Some other strategies for preventing pneumonia include:
- Avoiding people who have respiratory infections: This is particularly true for people who are at higher risk of developing pneumonia.
- Avoiding places where sick, infected people may be, particularly during cold and flu season: People should not go to the hospital unless absolutely necessary. Those with weak immune systems may also want to avoid enclosed, poorly ventilated places, such as airplanes.
- Managing chronic medical conditions, such as emphysema or congestive heart failure: Follow the doctor's instructions on keeping chronic diseases under control.
- Practicing regular handwashing: Regularly washing and rubbing hands together using warm soap and water will help lower the risk of contracting germs.
- Getting vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia: Older people and other specific populations are at a higher risk than average of developing this form of bacterial pneumonia.
- Getting a flu shot: This may help prevent viral pneumonia due to the influenza virus.
Double pneumonia is more than just a bad cold. It is a serious and potentially fatal condition that needs urgent medical treatment. With proper medical care, recovery is possible.
People who have a weak immune system or other risk factors for pneumonia should talk to their doctor about options for minimizing their risk of developing it in future.