WHAT IS PNEUMONIA?
This is a very serious infection that affects the lungs. Like many other diseases, it affects people of all ages, but is particularly serious in the very young, and the elderly, and has a much higher mortality among these two groups. Two million children are noted to die globally every year as a result of pneumonia. In sub-saharan Africa, pneumonia ranks among one of the top 5 killers of children under five.
WHO IS AT RISK OF CONTACTING PNEUMONIA?
There are certain conditions and exposures which actually make children vulnerable to pneumonia. It is very important to be aware of such situations so pre-emptive actions can be taken to avoid, or reduce the barest minimum.
- Exposure to Cigarette smoke
- Common Cold
- Excessive air pollution
- HIV Infection
- Poor Housing or Shelter Arrangements
- Inadequate intake of Zinc
- Lack of vaccines
All the conditions above lead to a situation whereby the lung tissue is damaged (for cold, smoke and cigarettes) and rendered vulnerable to bacteria. In the other situations, an otherwise healthy lung has more than normal exposure to the elements such as the weather which reduces the threshold for bacterial infection. Conditions like HIV and malnutrition reduces the inefficiency of the immune system, making it incapable of fighting off bacteria. Conditions that would otherwise have been controlled by well fed children become serious infections for the malnourished and those infected with HIV.
WHAT ARE THE USUAL SYMPTOMS OF PNEUMONIA?
The commonest symptom associated with pneumonia is COUGH. Sometimes the cough can be dry, or produce colourless mucus. If this is the case, the infection is likely due to a virus which is the less serious type and can heal after a few days.
However, if the mucus starts turning yellow, green or brown, or the child develops a fever which refuses to go away, then the condition becomes more serious as the infection may be due to bacteria, which should be treated promptly. Please note that even a cough that looks like it is not very serious (e.g dry cough or colourless mucus) can eventually become life threatening.
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Chest pain
- Chest retraction during breathing
- In extreme cases the child may actually start having convulsions.
WHAT ACTION DO I TAKE IF I SUSPECT MY CHILD HAS A PNEUMONIA
This is one of those conditions where the only action is to report to a Doctor or some trained health professional. Once an infection has occurred, the only action a mother can take is to try to control the child’s fever. Once at the Hospital, the Doctor will administer antibiotics to control the infection. If the pneumonia is severe, the child may have to spend a few days at the Hospital until he or she gets better. The earlier the child is sent to hospital, the shorter the treatment course, and the less the complications.
Please, do not administer antibiotics without the advice of a health professional. Some antibiotics have severe side effects on children (as well as adults), and some antibiotics may actually not be suitable for certain bacteria, and if this is the case, the infection only gets worse even when you feel your child has commenced treatment.
ARE THERE STEPS I CAN TAKE TO PREVENT PNEUMONIA?
Luckily, there are a few steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of contacting this potentially serious infection.
- Avoid exposure to the cold.
- As much as possible, avoid overcrowding
- Avoid exposure of children to cigarette smoke. Any member of the family, or a guest who smokes should be encouraged to do so outside the house, and only come back after he or she has finished smoking.
- Make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date, as many vaccines offer good protection against lung infections.
- If living in an environment suffering from air pollution, only venture outdoors when it is very necessary. If possible, efforts should be made to relocate from such areas.
- Children with asthmatic attacks should be treated PROMPTLY.
- Ensure adequate nutrition for children. For families having financial challenges, investigate for ways available funds can be optimised in providing nutrients for children.
- Maintain all round hygiene. Children are known to usually place objects into their mouth. This is a normal phase of development. The untoward effect of this very normal action is the potential for infection especially when they touch dirty objects. This can be minimised if the environment is kept clean.
- HIV positive children should get their anti-viral medicines when due.
- Ensure that your child’s nutrients have an adequate supply of zinc.
- Avoid exposure of your children to individuals who already have cough or cold.