How to Know if You Have Pneumonia?

You're coughing, feverish, achy - is it just a bad cold or something worse? House Call Doctor helps you determine if your illness is a run of the mill cold or the more dangerous pneumonia. 

Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read
Episode #143

It’s wintertime – it’s cold, wet, and often filled with viruses and bacteria running rampant through the air. 

Many of us will get sick at least once during the winter season and although it’s more than likely to be the common cold or flu that we contract, some illnesses can wreak havoc on our holiday plans and bodies.  Pneumonia is one of these nasty illnesses we all wish we could wipe off the face of this earth. 

Like many people, you may have developed a nasty cough this winter. But how can you tell it’s “just another virus” or if it’s actually something more serious like pneumonia?  Let’s find out and learn all about pneumonia in today’s episode.>

What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is simply the term doctors use to describe an infection in the lungs. It occurs much more commonly in the wintertime.  As we breathe in air, we are exposed to viruses and bacteria that enter our nasal passages and subsequently into our lungs.  Our immune system typically fights these organisms off, but sometimes the organism can set up shop and grow in our respiratory system (the lungs).

Bacteria are the top cause of pneumonia, but viruses cause about a fifth of the pneumonia cases.  Fungi can also cause pneumonia, but this is very rare and typically in those with a very weak immune system (like in HIV or chemotherapy patients).

Who Is at Higher Risk of Developing Pneumonia?

Some groups of patients may have a higher risk of acquiring pneumonia – these are typically patients whose immune systems may be working less optimally. They are immunecompromised, as we doctors say). You have a higher chance of developing pneumonia if:

  • You're over age 65

  • You have a chronic lung disease such as asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, etc.

  • You are a smoker

  • You have diabetes

  • You have mobility challenges (cerebral palsy, stroke, etc.)

  • You are an alcoholic

  • You are taking chemotherapy drugs

  • You are taking chronic steroids

  • You have had an organ transplant

  • You have HIV 


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.