Pneumonia is a serious lung infection and can often make someone very ill or be fatal. It is most common and most serious when it occurs in babies, people with compromised immune function and elderly people, but anyone can acquire pneumonia.
Pneumonia can be caused by many things including; viruses, bacterial infections, parasites and fungal infection. Prompt recognition of symptoms and medical treatment can greatly reduce the risk of more serious complications or death from pneumonia.
How do You Get Pneumonia?
The statistics are alarming. It is a known fact that pneumonia affects 3 million people every year in the U.S. Out of these 4 million people, 17% of them need to be hospitalized for treatment and almost everyone who is treated for pneumonia make a full recovery. The sad fact is that 5% of pneumonia sufferers die from this illness.
1. Inhaling the Bacteria or Virus
The most common cause of pneumonia is when we inhale either a virus or bacteria that causes pneumonia directly into our lungs. If our immune system is unable to directly fight off the invaders, then they will grow in the alveoli (air sacks). The immune system will attempt to get rid of the infection with increased white blood cells. In turn the lungs fill up with pus and fluid, thus turning into a lung infection.
2. Temporary Hospital Admission
If you are hospitalized for 48 hours or longer, you are at a higher risk for a condition known as, “hospital-acquired pneumonia.” This can be transferred from patient to patient, especially in units where patients are kept more closely together. Because this infection is contracted in a hospital environment, the bacteria may be stronger and less susceptible to antibiotics. The use of life-support devices in the ICU also puts patients at higher risk of pneumonia.
3. Living in a Care Facility for a Long Time
If you live in a convalescent hospital, a retirement home or spend a large amount of time in kidney dialysis centers, you may be at higher risk for a type of pneumonia known as “health-care acquired pneumonia.” If you get this type of pneumonia, it may also be less susceptible to antibiotics. These centers are especially prone to pneumonia outbreaks because of the population they serve, the elderly and immunocompromised patients that are naturally at higher risk for pneumonia.
4. Breathing in Foreign Objects
When pneumonia is caused by a foreign object inhaled into the lungs it is known as aspiration pneumonia. The causes of aspiration pneumonia are; liquids, foods, and saliva or stomach contents. This aspiration may happen if something disturbs your normal gag reflex. Things that disrupt the gag reflex have to do with injury to the nerves in the throat, brain injuries or drug/alcohol use.
Types of Pneumonia Based on the Causative Germs
Generally, pneumonia is called just by that name alone. In order to determine proper medical treatment, doctors will sometimes refer to the name of the germ that caused the infection. In order to do this, they will obtain a sample of what the person coughs up and test it for the type of germ. Then they can determine the proper medications needed. Common types are bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonia and fungal pneumonia.
Each type of germ will need its own specific treatment; antibiotics for bacterial, antifungal medications for fungal types and rest/fluids for viral pneumonia.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
The onset of symptoms may be slow or quick depending on how strong a person’s immune system is. Some people may think they have influenza or a simple cold virus that is not clearing up. Here are some common symptoms of Pneumonia:
- Productive cough with thickened secretions
- Shortness of breath
- Pain with breathing
- Fever and chills
- Sub-normal body temperature (elderly, infants and people with weak immunity)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle aches
Infants may not have any symptoms, but they may look like they are having trouble breathing and eat less than normal. They may also be irritable and restless with vomiting and/or fever.
What Are the Risk Factors for Pneumonia?
The elderly population over 65 and infants under the age of 2 years are at the highest risk for pneumonia. People with the following diseases are also at higher risk:
- Patients in ICU on ventilators
- People with chronic illness including; asthma, HIV, heart and lung diseases
- People who have had organ transplants
- Patients on chemotherapy or immune suppressant drugs
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What Are the Treatments for Pneumonia?
The following treatments are used to try and help the body recover from pneumonia:
- Medical Treatments. Antibiotics, cough medicines, antiviral medications, bed rest at home, hospitalization (in severe cases) and breathing treatments.
- Home Remedies. Bed rest until you are feeling better, stay home from work/school and drink extra fluids.
- Preventions. There are things you can do to help prevent yourself from getting pneumonia or help to lessen the severity of pneumonia if you do get it. Try doing the following things:
1. Get an annual influenza vaccination
2. Try to get a pneumonia vaccination every few years
3. Vaccinate your kids for influenza yearly and have a different pneumonia vaccine for children between 2-5 years old every year.
4. Use good hand washing technique
5. Try to quit smoking and do not smoke when you are sick
6. Practice good health habits with diet and exercise
7. Keep indoors and away from others when you are sick
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