Understanding Pneumonia

Some people love the fall. They love how the trees come to life with an array of colors. They love breathing in the crisp air, and feeling that air get colder and colder as the days go by. For others, the changing leaves and dropping temperature are just an indication that cold and flu season has arrived, and with it the chance of something worse: pneumonia. Pneumonia is common during cold and flu season. Understanding pneumonia can help keep you and your family healthy and safe.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that causes air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid. It can be cause by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and chemicals. Pneumonia can affect one lung, both lungs, or certain lobes. There are over 3 million cases of pneumonia in the United states each year.

According to the CDC, the most common cause of pneumonia is respiratory infection, especially the flu. There are, however, more than 30 different causes of pneumonia. The symptoms of pneumonia can be mild or severe, and are determined by factors such as the type of pneumonia, and the person’s age and health. It is most serious in young children, adults over 65, and people with weakened immune systems.

While pneumonia is treatable, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Mild pneumonia symptoms are similar to flu symptoms or cold symptoms, which can make detecting pneumonia difficult. While pneumonia symptoms are similar to flu symptoms, they tend to last longer. Here are a few common symptoms of pneumonia.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain when breathing or coughing
  • Coughing that might produce phlegm or mucus
  • Low to high grade fever
  • Fever
  • Sweating and shaking chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Confusion – especially in adults over 65
  • Dehydration

People sometimes mistake pneumonia as a simple cold, and try home remedies. While this can sometimes be effective with mild cases of pneumonia, serious cases require medical attention.

If left untreated, serious cases of pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure, sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or lung abscesses. Pneumonia kills 50,000 people in the United States each year.

When should you see the doctor?

While mild cases of pneumonia can be treated at home with rest, controlling fevers with medicine, and plenty of fluids, some cases of pneumonia require medical attention. If you experience your symptoms for more than 3-5 days, contact a physician.

There are other instance when you should visit a doctor for pneumonia.

  • If you have difficulty breathing.
  • You run a temperature of 102 or higher.
  • You consistently cough up mucus.
  • Children under 2, adults over 65, and people with weakened immune systems should consider seeing a doctor sooner.

How to prevent pneumonia

As always, prevention is the best approach when it comes to your health. Rather than wait until you have a health problem, take steps to lower your risk of developing a problem in the first place. There are several ways that you can help prevent pneumonia.

  • Get the pneumococcal vaccine.
  • Get vaccinated for the flu.
  • Don’t smoke. Those with chronic lung disease are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia than those with healthy respiratory systems.
  • Healthy life style choices such as regular exercise and proper diet can lower your risk of pneumonia.
  • Wash your hands and practice good hygiene to prevent infection.