We’re all aware of the precautions to take for virus and flu season. However, an additional danger is that any of these other conditions can morph into pneumonia. Pneumonia claims the lives of about 50,000 Americans each year.
Pneumonia is an infection that inﬂames the air sacs on one or both lungs and may cause them to ﬁll with ﬂuid. It is caused by a variety of sources including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Many of the germs that can cause pneumonia are airborne. While our bodies are generally efficient at blocking these germs, stress, lack of sleep, general depression, colds, or any weakness can allow them to sneak in. Pneumonia is the most serious for infants, people older than 65, and people with existing health challenges or weakened immune systems. It is particularly dangerous for people with heart failure or chronic lung problems.
There are different types of pneumonia:
The most common form of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia. Often it occurs after one has had the cold or ﬂu. It is contagious initially, but is no longer contagious after a couple of days of antibiotics.
Mycoplasma pneumonia, or walking pneumonia
This milder form of pneumonia can be caused by viruses or bacteria. It is contagious and airborne. Those diagnosed often don’t feel ill and are generally not hospitalized but can spread the pneumonia to others.
Viruses, including COVID-19, can cause viral pneumonia. The ﬂu is the most common viral gateway for pneumonia. Symptoms of viral pneumonia are initially similar to those of the ﬂu but quickly affect the lungs and breathing. Most viruses generally spark only a mild form of pneumonia in healthy individuals. However, COVID-19 has shown that, because of its inherent propensity for lung damage, it can introduce a more severe bout with pneumonia.
Pneumonia caused by fungi is most common in people with compromised health. It is acquired through the soil or bird droppings. Ask your doctor if there are pneumonia-causing fungi in your area.
Older adults and people with serious illness or weak immune systems, ironically, may have fewer and milder symptoms, including a lower temperature rather than a fever. Mental acuity can be affected by a loss of oxygen to the brain, so any sudden change in mental awareness should be a cause for alarm.
Symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older)
- Cough, which may produce phlegm
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Fever over 102°, sweating and shaking chills
- Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)
- Bluish lips and nailbeds
- Shortness of breath
Risk factors include:
- Chronic Disease: Asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or heart disease are primary risks
- Smoking: On top of weakening the lungs, smoking generally weakens your body’s natural defenses against bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia.
- Compromised Immune Systems: People who have HIV / AIDS, or who have had a transplant, chemotherapy, or steroids should be aware of the risks for pneumonia.
- Hospitalization: ICU stays, especially on a ventilator, can increase pneumonia risk. If you have been hospitalized, be especially watchful for pneumonia symptoms.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Here are some ways to avoid illnesses that may lead to pneumonia:
- Practice good hygiene – Make sure that your loved one is washing hands and sanitizing surfaces adequately, even in their own home.
- Keep your immune system strong – Get enough sleep, move or exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet.
- Stay away from sick people – The distancing we’ve all been doing is helpful, but if someone in the home is sick, isolate your immuno-compromised loved ones as well.
- Get vaccinated – Talk with your doctor about which might be best for your loved one. Some of the vaccines that can help include:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Influenza (flu)
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide (recommended by the CDC for all adults over 65)
- Pneumococcal conjugate (recommended by the CDC for immune-compromised individuals)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
Assisting Hands Home Care serving Cincinnati, OH caregivers can help with pneumonia prevention by cooking healthy meals and assisting with exercise and mobility. They can also be there to assist if someone is sick and needs extra help. Give us a call today if you or your loved ones need extra help at home.
Sources: ClearCare, Mayo Clinic, American Lung Association, CDC