Viral pneumonia is a lung infection that, as its name suggests, is caused by a virus. The most common virus that leads to viral pneumonia in adults is the flu, but the common cold and many other viruses can also lead to this type of pneumonia. In children, the most common cause of viral pneumonia is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Viral pneumonia occurs when germs that typically stick to the upper part of your respiratory system get into your lungs. These germs cause the air sacs in your lungs to become infected, inflamed, and filled with fluid.
Viral pneumonia is a relatively common condition, but it can be very serious—particularly in children and immunocompromised people. Read more below to learn the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options available for viral pneumonia.
Viral Pneumonia Symptoms
Viral pneumonia tends to set in over the course of a few days, and at first, it can feel like the flu (which is appropriate, because viral pneumonia is very often caused by the flu virus). Symptoms of viral pneumonia include:
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Appetite loss
- Muscle pain
NOTE: If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and have HIV/AIDS or are in another way immunocompromised, contact your physician immediately. Viral pneumonia can be fatal if left untreated in immunocompromised people. You can reach us at 423-710-3864.
Viral Pneumonia Risk Factors
Anyone can contract viral pneumonia, particularly after having a virus, but there are certain people who are at a higher risk than others. You’re more likely to get viral pneumonia if you:
- Have ongoing conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease
- Are 65 years old or older
- Are recovering from surgery
- Have a poor diet
- Are HIV+
- Consume too much alcohol (this weakens your immune system)
- Have another condition that weakens your body’s defenses (like cystic fibrosis, COPD, lung cancer or other types of cancer, etc.)
- Have leukemia, lymphoma, or severe kidney disease
- Have recently had an organ transplant
Viral Pneumonia Diagnosis
It’s possible that your physician can diagnose you with viral pneumonia simply by giving you a physical examination and asking about your symptoms and general health. (We’re cool like that 😉 ) During a physical exam, your doctor will listen to your lungs for signs of fluid. If a physical examination isn’t enough to diagnose you, your doctor may perform or order additional tests, including:
- A pulse oximetry test (where a small device is clipped to your finger to measure the oxygen levels in your blood)
- A bronchoscopy
- A pleural fluid culture (this is where your doctor takes fluid from your chest using a needle and examines it)
- Blood tests
- A chest CT scan
- A test of the mucus/sputum you’re coughing up
Viral Pneumonia Treatments
Unfortunately, unlike bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics. Like most viruses, viral pneumonia just has to run its course. In some cases, an antiviral medication may be prescribed, but your physician will likely just suggest medication for pain and fever. Until the virus runs its course, you should take good care of yourself by:
- Getting as much rest as possible
- Using a humidifier or taking a warm bath
- Drinking lots of water
- Staying home until your fever goes away and you’re no longer coughing anything up
- Not smoking
In rare cases, hospital visits might be warranted if your viral pneumonia won’t clear up or is causing particularly severe symptoms. If you do become hospitalized, you will likely receive:
- IV fluids/medication
- Oxygen treatment
- Other breathing treatments to help clear fluid from the lungs
Viral pneumonia can take 1–3 weeks to fully run its course. If you are older, or have medical conditions/complications, it may take longer for you to recover. If you’re immunocompromised, it’s very important that you keep regular doctor appointments so they can monitor your recovery and ensure no further complications arise.
Viral Pneumonia Prevention
You can’t always prevent yourself from getting viral pneumonia, but there are many things that you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will develop it. Viral pneumonia prevention methods include:
- Not smoking
- Getting enough sleep and exercise
- Eating a balanced, healthy diet (this keeps your immune system strong)
- Getting an annual flu shot
- Regular handwashing
- Staying away from people who are ill
The Lung Docs: Specialized Pulmonary Care
The Lung Docs provides specialized, state-of-the-art pulmonary care to our patients with viral pneumonia in Chattanooga and the surrounding Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia areas.
Dr. Mike’s Approach
I’m Dr. Mike Czarnecki, “The Lung Doc,” and I’m trained in all areas of pulmonary health, including the diagnosis and treatment of viral pneumonia. I will work with you to formulate a personalized viral pneumonia treatment plan so you can live, laugh, love, and breathe better again! To get started, schedule an appointment online or call our office to speak to someone directly. I can’t wait to meet you!