Ah, the wintertime. Full of cozy knits, pumpkin spice lattes, and… pneumonia.
Pneumonia often develops as a complication of colds and flu, when the germs get into your lungs.
While anyone can get pneumonia, adults older than 65, young children and infants, and people with chronic disease such as COPD and asthma, are at high risk for contracting pneumonia.
Symptoms Of Pneumonia
The symptoms of pneumonia can vary from person to person, and can also vary from mild to severe.
This can make it a bit difficult to diagnose yourself – so if you are unsure ,and especially if you are high risk (or looking after someone that is), get to a doctor as soon as possible.
The symptoms can be very similar to colds and flu, and may include one or many of the following common symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- A cough, which may produce phlegm
- Chills that cause you to shake
Other symptoms can also include:
- Feeling weak
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- High fever
- Confusion (for adults over 65)
- Loss of appetite
The symptoms will also be different depending on whether you have viral or bacterial pneumonia.
Initially, viral pneumonia may have similar symptoms to flu, including headache, weakness, muscle pain, and a dry cough. At around the 12-36 hour mark, you may experience breathlessness, and the coughing becomes worse with a small amount of mucus. You may also experience a high fever and slightly blue lips.
If you have bacterial pneumonia, you may experience a very high fever (up to 105 degrees F), and a rapid breathing and pulse rate. Your nail beds and lips may have a blue tinge from the lack of oxygen in the blood. You may also feel confused and delirious.
When To See A Doctor
If you – or someone you are caring for – falls into any one of these high risks groups, and you think they may have pneumonia, go straight to a doctor. Even if the symptoms seem mild.
For anyone in one of these groups, the pneumonia can quickly become life-threatening.
- Adults over 65 years old
- Children younger than two
- People with heart failure or chronic lung problems
- People who are receiving chemotherapy, or on any other treatment that suppresses the immune system
- People who have a weakened immune system or underlying health condition.
If you do not fall under one of the high risks groups, but are experiencing any of these symptoms – then you need to go see your doctor:
- Persistent high fever of 102 F / 39 C or higher
- Difficulty breathing
- A persistent cough (especially if coughing up pus)
- Chest pain
While you are waiting for your appointment, try to not make your symptoms worse by avoiding smoking, getting rest, and drinking lots of fluids.
The Causes of Pneumonia
There are many different germs that can cause pneumonia.
The five main causes of pneumonia are:
- Other infectious agents, for example fungi
- Various chemicals and environment agents that are inhaled
The most common cause of pneumonia is bacterial, and the least common is fungi.
When people get pneumonia, it is most often after having a respiratory illness such as a cold or the flu.
The symptoms in children are often much milder, so it may be difficult to pick up. Look out for sudden worsening of symptoms, fever, labored breathing, wheezing, any blueness in the skin, a cough, rapid breathing, and vomiting.
Babies may not show any signs at all – but if they do, they may include fever, vomiting, coughing, low energy, restlessness, difficulty eating coming from difficulty breathing, and just generally seeming sick.
How To Treat Pneumonia
Once your doctor has diagnosed pneumonia, the treatment you will get will depend both on the cause of your pneumonia, and the severity of the symptoms.
In order to diagnose pneumonia, your doctor will first conduct a physical exam, followed by a chest x-ray is pneumonia is suspected.
During the physical exam your doctor will listen to your lungs with the stethoscope. Your doctor is looking out for crackling, rumbling, and bubbling sounds when you inhale. Your doctor will also be aware of any wheezing, end even difficulty hearing breathing in some areas in your chest.
Additional tests may be required, such as blood tests (to see if the germ may be in your blood), arterial blood gasses, sputum tests to look for the organism causing the symptoms, a pleural fluid culture (this is done if there is fluid in the space around the lungs), pulse oximetry (to measure how much oxygen is going through your bloodstream), and bronchoscopy.
Treatment will address both curing the infection as well as preventing complications.
Most commonly, you will will get prescribed antibiotics, respiratory treatments, or other over-the-counter medications. The antibiotics will only be prescribed for bacterial pneumonia. For viral pneumonia, antiviral medication will be prescribed.
Ensure you complete your course of antibiotics. If you stop too soon, your lungs may harbor bacteria that can then multiply and cause your pneumonia to get even worse.
In addition to medication prescribed by your doctor, also ensure to drink plenty of fluids to loosen the secretions and help bring up phlegm. Get lots of rest while you are recovering.
Be careful about taking any other over-the-counter medications in addition to the ones prescribed by your doctor. You can take aspirin, acetaminophen, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (such as naproxen or ibuprofen) for a fever. Remember – DO NOT give aspirin to children.
Do not take cough medicine – coughing helps your body get rid of the infection. Speak to your doctor if the coughing is stopping you from getting enough sleep.
If your symptoms include having difficulty getting oxygen, you may be given supplemental oxygen (possibly even hospitalised).
For very severe cases, a use of a ventilator, intubation, or a stay in ICU, may be required. This is very uncommon, however.
Depending on the severity of the pneumonia, most of your symptoms will ease in a few days or weeks, though the feelings of tiredness can last for a few months.
Once you start feeling better, be careful to not jump into normal activities too soon. Wait until your temperature is back to normal, and you are no longer coughing up mucus.
Even if you are feeling better, take care to not overdo it. Get back into your normal routine gradually. Pneumonia can recur, so you don’t want to potentially get even more sick than before.
How To Prevent Pneumonia
As the saying goes – prevention is better than cure.
Your first step is to vaccinate. Get your annual flu vaccinations. There are also specific vaccinations for children under 5, and adults over 65 for pneumococcal pneumonia.
Employ Good Hygiene
Wash your hands regularly.
Especially after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, changing diapers, and before preparing and eating food.
Don’t Smoke (or Quit Smoking)
Smokers are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia. This is because the tobacco damages your lungs’ ability to defend against respiratory infections.
Keep Healthy, In General
Having healthy habits overall will also go a great way to prevent respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.
Follow a healthy diet, getting lots of rest, and exercising will help prevent you getting sick and will also help you recover from illness quicker.
Pneumonia is a serious illness and should not be taken lightly – it can even be life-threatening. It is important to pay attention to your (or your family member’s) symptoms, and to seek medical care when necessary. Most importantly – do not wait when you have young children, or older people who are showing the symptoms.