Anything that causes a consolidation, or filling up, of the air sacs and tubes of the lung is called a pneumonia. Pneumonia is distinct from and should not be confused with bronchitis.

Usually, and as is commonly understood, a pneumonia is caused by an infection, most often bacterial, but sometimes viral in origin. Bacterial pneumonia is most commonly caused by a germ called Streptococcus pneumoniae, and generally involves high fever, cough, and some degree of "toxicity," that is feeling pretty bad. Pneumonia is also caused by mycoplasma, commonly called "walking pneumonia," because the patient isn't all that sick and is literally walking around. Chlamydia can cause pneumonia, especially in very young infants as a consequence of an infection picked up travelling down the birth canal. These babies usually have an eye infection (conjunctivitis) to go along with a severe, hacking cough.

However, our definition does not exclude pneumonia from other causes, and chief among these is consolidation of a section of the lungs by foreign material, usually vomited food - or aspiration pneumonia. Severely handicapped children who are lying horizontally all the time are at risk for this complication. Hydrocarbon solvents down in the lungs can cause incredibly bad chemical pneumonias. A certain furniture polish is an example of a substance pediatricians advise strongly against having in the home at all for just that reason. It has been lethal on quite a few occasions. Ask your doctor about that and remember that child-proof caps are there for a reason. Never buy the regular cap version if you have kids at home and always put it back on properly. Another tragic foreign material pneumonia is the baby powder pneumonia: mom leaves the baby powder on the changing table, baby sees it, thinks it's a milk bottle, reaches over and gets a mouth full of powder. The ensuing pneumonia from the inhaled powder has been fatal.

The treatment of infectious pneumonias is naturally antibiotics for the bacterial, mycoplasmal, and chlamydial ones, and those we aren't sure about; time and tylenol for the viral ones. Many pneumonias are treated at home nowadays; sometimes hospitalization is needed.

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