Viral Pneumonia On Chest X-Ray And CT Scan

Viral pneumonia is an infection of the lung caused by various viruses.  This infection is most common in children and the elderly.  Serious infections can occur in those who have underlying conditions or whose immune systems are weak.  Viral pneumonias are often evaluated with imaging like chest X-rays and CT scans.

What is viral pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is an infection of the lung caused by many different kinds of viruses.  Viruses enter the lung through droplets inhaled by the nose or mouth.

The virus then invades the lung and airways.  The immune system can cause further damage to the lung causing swelling and fluid build up where air is exchanged in the alveoli.

Symptoms of viral pneumonia

Cough with sputum production, fever, fatigue, and breathlessness.

How is viral pneumonia diagnosed?

Your doctor will obtain a history and listen to your lungs. Testing may include sputum analysis, nasal swabs, blood work, chest X-ray, CT scan and rarely more invasive tests like bronchoscopy.

What does viral pneumonia look like on imaging?

Viral pneumonia on chest x-ray

The appearance on chest X-ray is not specific to a viral pneumonia.  Findings can vary based on the type of infection and if the patient is immunocompromised.

We can see a normal chest X-ray in some cases.  Abnormalities may include areas of patchy opacities, thickening of bronchi, small nodules and areas of atelectasis or lung collapse.  

Rarely the appearance can look like a bacterial pneumonia with areas of consolidation, pleural fluid and enlarged lymph nodes.

Viral pneumonia on chest CT

The appearance is not specific for a viral pneumonia.  We can see ground glass opacities, nodules, bronchial involvement and areas of consolidation.

What else can look like viral pneumonia in radiology?

Many diseases of the lung including bacterial pneumonia can look like viral pneumonia.  That is why it is important to combine the clinical information, lab testing with the imaging findings to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

What causes viral pneumonia?

Many viruses can cause a viral pneumonia.  Influenza, adenovirus, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus are some of them.

Is viral pneumonia dangerous?

It can be particularly in the very young, elderly or those who have underlying conditions or an immunocompromised status.  Hospitalization many be required in some cases.

What type of doctor treats viral pneumonia?

Different kinds of doctors treat viral pneumonias including primary care.  More complicated cases may be treated by a lung specialist or pulmonologist.

Viral pneumonia treatment

Viral pneumonia often gets better on its own.  In some cases, antiviral medications may be prescribed.  Antibiotics are not indicated for viral infections and are used to treat bacterial pneumonia.

Supportive measures are often taken such as good hydration, cough medicines, and rest.

Viral pneumonia imaging: summary

Viral pneumonias can be caused by many different types of viruses.  Infections are usually self limited but can be severe in the young, elderly and immunocompromised.

Imaging plays a minor role in diagnosis and often shows non specific findings which can be seen with other infections and lung diseases.   The diagnosis of viral pneumonia is made with clinical evaluation and imaging tests.  Treatment is supportive but in some cases anti virals are prescribed.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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