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Pneumonia in Children

Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lungs. Each lung has numerous sacs where oxygen is incorporated into the blood in exchange for carbon dioxide, which is exhaled. When an individual has pneumonia, these sacs fill with pus and fluid, impairing this important process and causing breathing difficulty.

Pneumonia and other infections of the lower respiratory tract are the major causes of death globally. Although it can occur at any age, it occurs more commonly in younger children, remaining the leading cause of death among children younger than five years worldwide.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), childhood pneumonia kills more than 3 million children every year, with more than 20 million children hospitalized for pneumonia.

Pneumonia occurs everywhere but most common in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – about 95 percent of all cases of pneumonia in children occur in these developing countries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, pneumonia kills half a million children every year. Death from Pneumonia is associated with undernutrition, poor access to safe water, living in crowded homes, poor environmental sanitation, poor indoor air quality, and lack of access to healthcare. These risk factors are more predominant in developing countries.

A major risk factor, also, of pneumonia in children, is having a suppressed immunity. A child’s immune system can be suppressed by undernutrition and conditions such as HIV.

What Causes Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is caused by infectious agents, such as viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The most common agents that cause the disease include Streptococcus pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus.

How does Pneumonia Spread?

These agents are spread in a number of ways: they may be spread through nasal droplets and saliva from an infected person when they sneeze or cough. The infection may also develop from infections of nearby body parts such as the throat, ear, and sinuses.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia in children?

Common symptoms of pneumonia in children include:

  • Cough, the most common symptom of pneumonia after the first four weeks of life. Cough is often associated with chest pain.
  • Fever, which is usually high grade if pneumonia is caused by bacteria and low-grade if viral.
  • Fast breathing or shortness of breath
  • Noisy breathing – wheezing is common in pneumonia caused by viruses.
  • Children may also experience non-specific symptoms including a general feeling of unwellness, weakness, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.

In severe cases, children with pneumonia may develop respiratory failure requiring a mechanical ventilator.

How Is Pneumonia Treated?

Most cases of pneumonia can be treated successfully using oral antibiotics and drugs that provide symptomatic relief such as pain relievers, fever-lowering drugs, and cough medicines. However, severe cases may require infusing antibiotics through the veins as well as oxygen administration.

Can Pneumonia be Prevented?

Yes, pneumonia can be prevented. You can prevent pneumonia in your child through these measures:


Vaccines are available for protecting your child against common causes of pneumonia such as Hemophilus influenza (Hib vaccine), Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcal vaccine), and vaccines against measles and whooping cough. Vaccination is the most effective approach to prevent pneumonia.

Adequate nutrition

Starting with exclusive breastfeeding, adequate nutrition improves a child’s immunity, fortifying their natural defenses against infections.

Environmental hygiene

Ensure good indoor air quality by avoiding wood, coal, or crop waste for indoor cooking. These cause air pollution that increases a child’s risk of pneumonia. Also, ensure good environmental hygiene and personal hygiene such as proper handwashing, for yourself and your child to avoid getting the infection.

A child with HIV should receive antibiotic (Co-trimoxazole) prophylaxis in the hospital to prevent pneumonia.











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