The Chemistry of Pneumonia

Introduction

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Pneumonia is an condition that occurs in one or both lungs. The lungs are made of alveoli sacs, which become filled with fluid and/or pus. This causes difficulty and pain while breathing, and decreases oxygen intake. Pneumonia is the fluid in the lungs fighting the infection, not actually the infection itself. It is important that there is the right amount of pneumonic fluid; enough to kill the microbes, but not so much that the lungs can’t work properly. It is caused by most commonly caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.

I chose to research the chemistry of pneumonia because I recently experienced it, and wanted to learn more about what was going on in my own lungs. My life was greatly affected by pneumonia for almost three weeks, with missing eight days of school and a lingering cough. I was interested to learn why pneumonia was so hard to get over and why it affected my body so drastically.



Composition of ...

  • The pus in the lungs contains:

    • red blood cells

    • white blood cells

      • Hypochlorite (ClO-)

    • plasma proteins

      • Water (H₂O)

      • Dissolved protein

        • Serum Albumin (C₂₉₃₆H₄₆₂₄N₇₈₆O₈₈₉S₄₁)

        • Globulin (C₃₆H₆₁N₇O₁₉

      • Glucose (C₆H₁₂O₆)

      • Many amino acids (general formula = R-CH(NH₂)-COOH)

      • Vitamins and minerals

      • Urea (CH₄N₂O)

      • Uric acid (C₅H₄N₄O₃)

      • Carbon dioxide (CO)

      • Hormones

      • Salts (general formula = NaCl)


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The first main component of pneumonia is the viruses, bacteria or fungi attacking the body. First, germs make their way into the body and begin to attack it. The most common illnesses that cause pneumonia are strep throat (bacterial), the flu, or a common cold (virus).  Pneumonia commonly occurs when the immune system is compromised, which can be due to lack of sleep, dehydration, or greater than normal exposure to germs. Viruses and bacterial infections can occur many places in the body, but the ones that cause pneumonia are affecting the airways and lungs. When your body is being attacked by a virus, bacterial infection or fungi, it can travel its way into your lungs and trigger a response that causes your body to produce the pneuomonic fluid in the lungs to fight off the infection, which causes the symptoms of pneumonia to occur.

The second main component is the pneumonic fluid in lungs. The body recognizes that an illness has moved into your lungs, and it begins to produce fluid containing things that will kill the infection. These things include red blood cells and white blood cells, such as hypochlorite, as well as plasma proteins such as water, serum albumin, globulin, glucose, many amino acids, vitamins and minerals, urea, uric acid, carbon dioxide, hormones, salts (chemical compositions seen above). This occurs when an infection progresses into your lungs, and this pus is created by the body. The fluid is particularly in the alveoli sacs of the lungs. The body is trained to fight infections when they are recognized by the immune system.



Chemistry's Role

Without chemistry, the immune system would not be able to recognize the chemical elements of foreign viruses, bacteria or fungi in the body, and humans would have no way to fight off infections. The chemicals that make up the pus that attacks the microbes in the lungs would never be created. Pneumonia would never occur to kill the microbes in the lungs, and they would completely take over the lungs and rest of the body.

Background Research

Pneumonia is an condition that occurs in one or both lungs, particularly in the alveoli sacs. When the body recognizes foreign microbes in the lungs, the alveoli sacs become filled with fluid and/or pus. This causes difficulty and pain while breathing, as well as reduced of oxygen intake. This reaction of the body is caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Other less common causes include mycoplasma, which are the smallest agents of disease that affect humans, as well as PCP and Tuberculosis. The pus in the lungs contains red blood cells and white blood cells, particularly neutrophils. Neutrophils make toxic products that are useful in killing microbes, but they can also damage the lungs. An example is hypochlorite, which is an active chemical in bleach. The fluid of the lungs also contains plasma proteins, particularly opsonins. The opsonins cause fluid build up when they accumulate, which is called pulminary edima. Pulminary edima makes it difficult for oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through the blood in the lungs. It is extremely important that there is the right amount of pneumonic fluid - enough to kill the microbes, but not so many that the lungs can’t work properly. The pneumonia, which is essentially pus created in the lungs, is the body fighting the infection, not actually the infection itself.

Resources


About the Author
Devon McMullen is a junior at Senior High School. She recently experienced viral pneumonia, so she wanted to discover more about what was happening in her body. She is a cheerleader, a junior class representative on the Student Council, and a Senior Advocate. She has lettered in band and cheerleading, and enjoys drinking coffee and skiing.









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