According to UNICEF, pneumonia claims the lives of 2,500 children every day, making it the leading cause of death in children aged 5 and below. In 2015, 922,000 children worldwide died from this illness, with most of the fatalities being infants below 2 years old.1
Symptoms to Watch Out For
The main reason why pneumonia largely targets children is that unlike adults, their immune systems are not yet fully developed. If you have a young child, it is important to be vigilant for the signs and symptoms of pneumonia, to ensure they do not fall victim to this illness.
Pneumonia symptoms in children vary depending on your child’s age and the severity of the infection. However, parents of newborns, babies and toddlers should be very careful, as infants generally do not show typical signs of infection. Plus, unlike older children, they cannot communicate how they are feeling. Common signs of pneumonia in babies include:2
Being limp or lethargic
Crying more than usual
Restlessness or irritability4
Common Causes of Pneumonia in Children
In children 5 years old and younger, most cases of pneumonia are caused by viral infections,5 but in older children and teens, this illness is usually caused by bacterial infections.6 Additionally, a child could start out by having a viral pneumonia, which can then cause complications leading to bacterial pneumonia.
Children with bacterial pneumonia generally experience sudden symptoms, such as rapid breathing, high fever and coughing. The usual cause is Streptococcus pneumoniae, although other bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus7 or Mycoplasma pneumoniae, can also cause this illness.8
Look for warning signs, such as trouble breathing, a faster pulse, and bluish lips or nails; these can indicate that your child is not getting enough oxygen, and may require immediate medical attention.9 Weakness, vomiting10 and diarrhea are also common signs of bacterial pneumonia in children.11
As for viral pneumonia, the symptoms are usually similar to that of the flu, but slowly worsen. Common causes of this include parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus and the flu virus.12
A fever of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or more,13 wheezing, coughing, rapid breathing, vomiting,14 weakness15 and diarrhea16 are also possible symptoms. While viral pneumonia is less severe, caution is still urged, as it can make an infected child more susceptible to the bacterial form of the illness.17
Another common type of pneumonia that occurs in school-age children is Mycoplasma pneumonia, also known as walking pneumonia. It’s contagious, and may spread via close contact with affected individuals. Common symptoms of walking pneumonia include dry cough, fatigue or tiredness, low-grade fever and headache.18
Some infants and children have a higher risk of acquiring pneumonia than others. There are factors some of them controllable, that can increase your child’s risk for this illness, including:19
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Having a chronic lung-related condition, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis, or other long-lasting health problems
- Taking medications that can disrupt the immune system, such as steroids
- Premature birth
- Have feeding problems, such as aspiration (inhaling in a bit of milk) — a common sign is that they often choke or cough during feeding
The best way to properly diagnose pneumonia in a child is to bring them to a physician immediately. The doctor will conduct a physical examination and check if your child has fluid in their lungs using a stethoscope or X-ray.20 Take note that this illness can progress very quickly in children, so act quickly.