What Is Double Pneumonia?

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Double pneumonia isn't technically an official medical term. Double pneumonia—or bilateral pneumonia as it’s sometimes called—is simply a way to describe an infection in both lungs. This infection can be caused by a bacteria, virus, or fungus that causes the air sacs within your lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Most people who come down with pneumonia most likely will have been exposed to the pneumococcal bacteria or a flu virus.

When someone comes down with pneumonia, it can affect anywhere from a small portion of one lung to large parts of both lungs. When pneumonia is affecting both lungs, it is significantly more severe than pneumonia affecting only one lung. When you have pneumonia in one lung, your healthy lung can compensate while the lung with pneumonia recovers. However, when you have bilateral pneumonia, you don’t have the luxury of one good lung to take over. This puts you in a more delicate state.

A young woman is resting on a dark brown leather couch with an ivory colored blanket covering her.

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Double Pneumonia Symptoms

It doesn’t matter if you have pneumonia in one lung or both lungs; the symptoms are still the same.

  • Productive cough
  • Fever
  • Blue or purple lips or fingernails
  • Confusion (seen more often in those over 65)
  • Rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Sharp, stabbing chest pains when breathing or coughing

If you have trouble breathing, chest pain, a relentless, ongoing cough, or a fever over 102°F that is not easily controlled, it is best to call your primary care physician for an appointment. These symptoms indicate a more severe infection with the potential to cause a more serious, chronic condition like:

  • Kidney failure
  • Sepsis
  • Possibly death
Common symptoms of pneumonia

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Prognosis

Every case of pneumonia is different, and everyone’s body reacts differently to infections. While some people will feel better in a week or two, some people may feel lingering symptoms for three to six months. 

Those with severe underlying medical conditions are more likely to experience severe forms of pneumonia. In turn, this makes recovering from pneumonia a more complicated process. Not only will they take longer to recover, but pneumonia may also become a reoccurring condition.

Because pneumonia—specifically bilateral interstitial pneumonia—can quickly become deadly, it’s crucial to seek out medical treatment if you feel no improvement or begin to feel worse. More importantly, seek out emergency care if you’re struggling to breathe at any point.

Successful Outcomes

With timely medical care, most people will successfully recover from bilateral pneumonia.

Causes

Pneumonia is typically caused by one of three things:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungus

It’s also possible to get pneumonia if food, liquid, or other things besides air somehow finds a way into your lungs—this is known as aspiration pneumonia. 

Some people are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia because of their age or underlying health conditions. Some risk factors for double pneumonia include:

  • Being less than 2 years old
  • Being more than 65 years old
  • Being malnourished
  • Smoking and those who are exposed to excessive second-hand smoke
  • Having a chronic illness like diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and heart disease
  • Having a lung condition such as COPD, cystic fibrosis, or asthma
  • Those who struggle to swallow because of a stroke or other neurological conditions
  • People who’ve had a recent cold or flu
  • Those who struggle with drug or alcohol abuse

Diagnosis

When you visit your primary care physician or local emergency room for pneumonia symptoms, they will start by listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. With this stethoscope, your doctor will be listening for:

  • Clicking
  • Bubbling
  • Rattling sounds

They will also put a device called a pulse oximeter on your finger to see how much oxygen is running through your body. When you’re perfectly healthy, your oxygen levels will be in the very high 90s—likely around 98 to 99 at any given moment. When you’re sick, though, this number starts to dip into the low to mid 90s or even lower.

Suppose your doctor sees a low oxygen saturation reading on the pulse oximeter and hears crackling in your lungs. In that case, they will know you likely have pneumonia at this point. 

Suppose they question the severity of your pneumonia or your response to treatment. In that case, your healthcare provider may suggest getting an X-ray or lab tests. Often, the X-ray will confirm what they're hearing with their stethoscope and indicate pneumonia in one or both lungs.

When the doctor orders lab tests, the goal is to find out which organism is causing the infection. This way, they can see if it's better to treat you with a new or different medication or if something else is going on altogether.

Treatment

Treatment for bilateral pneumonia is based on many factors. To start, your physician will want to find out if it's viral, bacterial, or fungal pneumonia. From there, they will be looking at the severity—which with double pneumonia is often quite severe. 

If you come down with bacterial pneumonia, there's a good chance it will respond to an antibiotic such as amoxicillin or azithromycin. However, when it comes to viral pneumonia, there is not much doctors can do medication-wise. With viral pneumonia, your doctor will be focusing on helping ease symptoms. They will often recommend the basics: lots of rest and staying hydrated.

Oxygen and Hospital Stays

In some cases of viral pneumonia, your doctor will put you on oxygen. In more severe cases, they may recommend a hospital stay and a procedure to remove fluid from your lungs through suction.

Coping

Most people will find comfort with some basic self-care when they are sick. Some recommendations include:

Drinking Plenty of Fluids

Staying hydrated is essential to your recovery from pneumonia. Many people will benefit from a drink that includes electrolytes such as Gatorade or Pedialyte. 

It may also be worthwhile to try some peppermint tea. Peppermint tea seems to help break up mucus, decrease inflammation, and soothe a sore throat. 

Using a Humidifier

Humidifiers are great at helping keep your airways open, which in turn enables you to breathe a little easier. Humidifiers also prevent your skin from drying out, so the fluids you are drinking can spend more time working on your cough and less time keeping your skin from drying out.

Get Lots of Rest

Rest is crucial with any illness, but especially pneumonia. Resting isn't just about getting sleep; it's also about reducing the day-to-day chores you are responsible for. It may be helpful to find someone who can meal prep for you or deliver meals. Maybe they can also help with laundry and other basic household chores. Getting help with cleaning will also prevent you from directly breathing in cleaning chemicals that could irritate your lungs.

A Word From VeryWell

Pneumonia is a common infection for both children and adults. While it can be an easy-to-treat illness if caught in the early stages, chronic lifelong problems occur for some people.

When it comes to recovering from bilateral pneumonia, it’s important to follow your doctor's instructions, take any medication on time, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and most importantly, don't push yourself to get better faster. While everyone is more than ready to feel better when they are sick, pushing yourself too hard may set you back even further when it comes to pneumonia. 

And remember, never hesitate to reach out to your primary care provider if you have any concerns while recovering from double pneumonia. 

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Article Sources
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  1. American Lung Association. Pneumonia symptoms and diagnosis. Updated March 11, 2021.

  2. MedlinePlus. Aspiration pneumonia. Updated April 2, 2021.

  3. American Lung Association. Learn about pneumonia. Updated October 23, 2020.

  4. Yale Medicine. Pulse oximetry.