What is Pneumonia and When to Call the Doctor
Coughing during an illness is bad enough on its own, but, depending on the cause, it can potentially lead to a much worse condition – pneumonia. Pneumonia typically develops in people who have had an upper respiratory infection, cold or flu. For many, the condition can be treated at home, but for others, such as those under the age of 2 and those over the age of 65, it can be life threatening.
What is Pneumonia?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs.” When the air sacs are inflamed, they may fill with fluid or pus that would cause coughing and difficulty breathing, fever and chills. There are several different causes of pneumonia:
- Community-acquired pneumonia: This is the most common type that develops outside of a hospital or health care facility. It can be caused by bacteria, bacteria-like organisms, fungi, or viruses.
- Hospital-acquired pneumonia: This can be the most serious form as it is generally more resistant to antibiotics and infects someone who is already sick, making recovery much more difficult.
- Health Care-acquired pneumonia: Those who live in long-term care facilities or receive regular care in outpatient clinics are at risk to be infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Aspiration pneumonia: Pneumonia can develop if someone accidentally inhales food, drink, vomit or saliva into the lungs. This is more likely to occur if the gag reflex is impaired due to brain injury, swallowing problem, or excessive drug or alcohol use.
Pneumonia can present several symptoms ranging from mild to severe. If you have been infected with pneumonia, you may experience:
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- Fever, sweating and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Other symptoms may be present in those 65 years or older, such as confusion and lower than normal body temperature. Infants may not show any symptoms, or they may exhibit other signs, such as lack of energy or even appearing restless, as well as difficulty breathing and eating.
At any time, if breathing is difficult with chest pain, persistent high fever, and cough, see a doctor right away, especially if the person who is ill falls into one of the high-risk groups. Because there are many complications that can occur with pneumonia, it is important to be monitored by a doctor, or even admitted to the hospital for treatment if necessary.
Can I Prevent Pneumonia?
The good news is that there are ways you can protect yourself and loved ones from pneumonia.
- Vaccinations: Vaccines are available to protect against some types of pneumonia and flu for both adults and children. Talk with your doctor about recommended vaccination schedules and your current status to find out if you may be due.
- Good hygiene is key: The easiest protection you can provide for yourself and others is through regular hand washing and use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. This can help prevent the spread of all kinds of germs, not just pneumonia.
- No smoking: Smoking puts your lungs at risk as it damages their natural defenses against various respiratory infections.
- Help your immune system: Your body’s natural defense is stronger when you are good to yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.
Because pneumonia can quickly become dangerous, it is vital to receive treatment early to recover sooner. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have pneumonia or other respiratory illness, contact us today.