While we have all focused on the global COVID-19 pandemic in the last two years and watched it continue to mutate and cause health concerns everywhere, this doesn’t mean other common health problems have gone away.
At this time of year, when the weather is getting steadily colder, another thing you don’t want to get or have anyone in your family get, especially a frail parent or grandparent, is pneumonia. Here’s the lowdown on this health condition.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a health condition that affects the lungs. It’s a form of acute respiratory infection that limits oxygen intake and makes breathing hard and painful. Our lungs have small sacs called alveoli that, when we’re healthy, fill with air. However, when we’re struck down with pneumonia, these alveoli fill with pus and fluid, causing respiratory issues. Pneumonia can affect one or both of the lungs.
It’s a prevalent problem and particularly nasty for the very young and the very old. It is the single largest infectious cause of death in children globally. Plus, older people are more likely to both get pneumonia and die from it, with hospitalization for this issue having a greater risk of death in the United States for seniors than any of the other top ten reasons for hospitalization.
Pneumonia is a contagious infection, and the seriousness of it depends on not just your age and overall health but also the particular germ that causes your case. Symptoms can range from mild cold and flu-like signs to severe and fatal ones.
Signs You Have Pneumonia
Signs you may have pneumonia rather than or in addition to the common cold or a case of the flu vary according to the type of pneumonia involved. Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include high fever, tiredness, sweating, chills, trouble breathing, cough with mucus, abdominal or chest pain, or a loss of appetite. Some people also indicate pneumonia due to a confused mental state or changes in awareness, but this is most common in the elderly.
Symptoms of viral pneumonia are like flu signs, such as sore throat, headache, fever, a dry cough, loss of appetite, muscle pain, and weakness. Plus, those with viral pneumonia may get a cough with mucus and shortness of breath.
Some pneumonia cases are caused by contagion, spreading from person to person. Bacterial or viral pneumonia can be contagious when the organisms that carry the disease get breathed into your lungs. Yet, pneumonia can also be caused by fungi at times. In this situation, the health condition isn’t contagious, but rather airborne fungi are inhaled and cause the problem.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think you or someone you care about may have pneumonia, it’s vital to see a doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis. The physician will need to do a thorough investigation. This will involve asking about health history and a physical exam that incorporates listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. You may have to have a pulse oximetry test. This test measures the amount of oxygen in your blood, so the medical practitioner can see how well your lungs are currently moving oxygen into your bloodstream.
The doctor may order a chest X-ray, too, to look for signs of pneumonia on the lungs and get a better understanding of how extensive the infection maybe if it’s there. Plus, lab tests of your blood and mucus, if applicable, will likely be run to work out whether you have viral, bacterial, or fungi-based pneumonia.
Keep in mind that even if you can’t get to a doctor in person because you’re too sick or the clinic is too far away, you can speak with a physician remotely. Search for an online doctor who operates remotely – they can still diagnose many conditions, including pneumonia, without seeing you in person.
As for treatment, people with pneumonia are often given antibiotics orally, especially for bacterial pneumonia. This is usually affordable and easy to pick up. However, in severe cases, patients will be sent to a hospital to be monitored and potentially given fluids and other treatment options, such as medicine to reduce pain and lower fever. Cough suppressants are sometimes given to those with pneumonia too.
If you have viral pneumonia that doctors believe was caused by the flu virus, you may be prescribed antiviral drugs to help you get over the illness sooner and have less discomfort for its duration. You will likely be prescribed antifungal medication for fungal pneumonia, which is much rarer.
Pneumonia is something none of us want, so do what you can to keep your immune system strong and avoid being around people with colds, flu, pneumonia, and other bacterial and viral infections that you could catch and get sick from. Try to avoid smoking or drinking too much alcohol, as the former damages lung tissue and the latter weakens the immune system.
Also, steer clear of toxic fumes from chemicals, secondhand smoke, and the like, which can weaken lung function. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and eating well, too. Every step you take can help you remain healthy and free from pneumonia.