Childhood Pneumonia

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Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that most commonly occurs in children under the age of 5. While some pneumonia cases are mild, others can be very dangerous. When swelling and fluid build up, it can make it hard for your child to breathe.

Symptoms of Childhood Pneumonia

Pneumonia may cause respiratory symptoms such as:

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Fast breathing
  • Struggling to breathe

It can also cause:

  • Fever and chills
  • Chest pain
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bluish gray color around the nose, lips, or fingernails

Diagnosing & Treating Pneumonia at UVA Health Children's

At UVA Health Children's, we see many cases of childhood pneumonia every year. We provide child-centered services to help reduce symptoms of mild or severe pneumonia and keep your child safe.

Our providers will first confirm the diagnose. This could mean: 

  • Pulse oximetry, a finger clip that measures how much oxygen is getting to the blood
  • Blood, urine and mucus tests to identify the germs
  • Chest X-rays or ultrasound to examine your child’s lungs

Antibiotics can treat pneumonia caused by a bacterial infection. Antiviral medications can help manage pneumonia caused by some viruses. Your pediatrician may also suggest that you give your child:

  • Plenty of rest
  • More fluids
  • A cool mist humidifier
  • Over the counter medications for fever and discomfort

High-Risk or Severe Infections

With severe pneumonia, your child may need to be hospitalized so we can:

  • Provide breathing support
  • Give nutrition and fluids through IV if your child can’t eat or keep food down
  • Deliver medicine through an IV
  • Monitor the infection

Common Causes of Pneumonia 

Pneumonia can be caused by:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi
  • Other microscopic causes

The most common cause in young children is a respiratory virus. Some common viral pneumonia causes are:

  • The common cold
  • COVID-19
  • The flu
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Risk Factors for Severe Pneumonia 

Some children are more at risk for severe pneumonia than others. Children who are more at risk may have: 

  • Other respiratory illnesses
  • A weakened immune system 
  • Genetic disorders
  • Congenital heart defects

There can also be environmental factors like: 

  • Inhaling smoke
  • Mold exposure 

Ways to Prevent Pneumonia 

Some forms of pneumonia can be vaccinated against. You can also vaccinate against many of the illnesses that could lead to pneumonia. 

Some other steps you can take to prevent pneumonia include: 

  • Increased hand washing
  • Eating a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins
  • Making sure everyone is getting enough sleep 
  • Limiting your child's exposure to smoke and mold 
  • Staying hydrated

These steps can help your child have a strong immune system.