Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The air sacs in the lungs fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. Pneumonia can range from mild to severe, and in some cases can even become life-threatening if untreated.
The symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- Coughing or wheezing
- Fatigue and low energy
- Shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
- Loss of appetite
Bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia. The flu virus can also lead to pneumonia. Those at highest risk are infants, young children, older adults, and people with health conditions like asthma, heart disease, or a weakened immune system.
Pneumonia can often be treated at home with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications. For severe cases, hospitalization and intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be needed. The most effective way to prevent pneumonia is through vaccination. The flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine can help reduce your chances of getting pneumonia.
Other things you can do to lower your risk include: washing your hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes, and not smoking. Leading a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition, exercise, limited alcohol, and enough sleep also helps keep your immunity strong.
If your symptoms worsen or last more than a week, see your doctor right away. Pneumonia can usually be cured with prompt treatment and by following your doctor’s recommendations carefully during recovery.
Common Symptoms and Signs of Pneumonia
If you’re experiencing symptoms of pneumonia, you’ll want to watch out for the following signs.
A bad cough, often producing mucus or phlegm, is one of the first symptoms. This cough may be dry at first, but then produce the mucus. The cough can be mild to severe, and may worsen when you lie down.
You may also have chest pain, especially when you breathe in or cough. The pain is usually sharp and stabbing.
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing is common and can leave you feeling winded from simple activities. Your breathing may also be rapid and shallow.
A high fever around 101 F or higher, chills, and sweating indicate an infection like pneumonia. The fever may come on suddenly.
Loss of appetite and fatigue are other symptoms to note. Pneumonia can zap your energy and make you not want to eat.
If your pneumonia is severe or you have a weakened immune system, you may experience confusion or changes in mental awareness, nausea, or vomiting.
See your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of pneumonia. Early diagnosis and treatment, like antibiotics, fluids, and rest, are key to overcoming this illness and preventing complications. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you’ll be on the mend and able to breathe easy again.
Major Causes and Risk Factors for Developing Pneumonia
Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, underlying health conditions, and environmental exposures. The three most common causes of pneumonia are:
- Bacterial infections: The most common cause of pneumonia in adults. Bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae, Hemophilic influenzae, and Staphylococcus aureus are often the culprits. These bacteria are usually already present in the respiratory tract but only cause infection when your immunity is lowered.
- Viral infections: Viruses such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and rhinoviruses can also lead to pneumonia, especially in young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Viral pneumonia tends to be less severe than bacterial pneumonia but can still be dangerous for at-risk groups.
- Aspiration: When food, saliva, stomach acid or vomit is inhaled into the lungs, it can lead to aspiration pneumonia. This often occurs in people who have trouble swallowing properly or are unconscious. Aspiration pneumonia can be caused by either bacteria or chemicals in the inhaled material.
Certain factors increase your risk of developing pneumonia like smoking, lung disease, age (over 65), suppressed immunity, asthma, chronic illness, and excessive alcohol use. You’re also more prone to pneumonia if you’ve recently had surgery or been hospitalized. Kids under 2 years old and people with weakened immunity are particularly vulnerable.
The best way to prevent pneumonia is through vaccination, quitting smoking, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. See your doctor right away if you notice symptoms like chest pain, coughing, fever, chills, or shortness of breath. Early diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia is key to a quick recovery.
Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia – Medications and Home Remedies
Once pneumonia is diagnosed, the treatment typically involves antibiotics, medications, and home remedies to help relieve your symptoms.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial pneumonia. Your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics based on the type of bacteria causing your infection. Common antibiotics for pneumonia include amoxicillin, doxycycline, and azithromycin. Be sure to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed to completely eliminate the infection.
An expectorant like Mucinex can help thin out mucus secretions and make coughs more productive. A cough suppressant such as Robitussin can calm your cough. These over-the-counter medications may provide some relief from coughing spells and make it easier to rest.
To lower a high fever, take an over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. A lowered fever will help you feel more comfortable as your body fights the infection.
Home Remedies pneumonia
Some natural remedies may also aid in your recovery and provide relief from symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids like water or warm tea with honey to stay hydrated.
- Use a humidifier to moisten airways.
- Get extra rest – aim for 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
- Consider taking zinc lozenges or elderberry syrup – both may help boost your immunity.
- Try chest physiotherapy techniques like coughing, deep breathing and postural drainage to help clear your lungs.
- Elevate your head with an extra pillow when sleeping to make breathing easier.
With treatment, most people will recover from pneumonia within a couple of weeks. Be sure to continue resting even after symptoms start to improve. See your doctor right away if symptoms get worse or persist longer than expected.
Preventing Pneumonia – Steps You Can Take to Lower Your Risk
To lower your risk of pneumonia, there are several steps you can take.
Two vaccines can help prevent some types of pneumonia:
- The pneumococcal vaccine protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, the most common cause of pneumonia. The CDC recommends all adults 65 and older get two pneumococcal vaccinations, with the initial shot followed by a booster 5 years later.
- The influenza vaccine lowers the likelihood of getting the flu, which can lead to pneumonia. The flu shot is recommended annually for everyone 6 months and older.
Practice good hygiene
You can pick up pneumonia-causing germs by touching contaminated surfaces. Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing, blowing your nose, or being around someone who’s sick. Disinfect commonly touched surfaces in your home, workplace and school like doorknobs, light switches, phones, keyboards, toilets and sinks.
Smoking damages your lungs and makes you more prone to lung infections like pneumonia. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit, such as through counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, or medication. Avoiding secondhand smoke exposure will also lower your risks.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise and manage any underlying health conditions. Staying in good shape will keep your immunity strong. See your doctor right away if you have symptoms of pneumonia like coughing, fever, chills or difficulty breathing. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to avoiding complications.
By following these preventive measures, you can strengthen your defenses against pneumonia and enjoy better health and wellness. But don’t hesitate to consult your physician if you have additional concerns or are in a high-risk group. They can provide guidance tailored to your unique situation.
You now have a good overview of pneumonia, one of the leading causes of hospitalization and death globally. Knowing the signs and symptoms, risk factors, and how to prevent pneumonia can help you stay healthy and get the treatment you need if you do get sick. The good news is, with early diagnosis and proper treatment like antibiotics or hospital care if severe most people recover from pneumonia. So if you experience symptoms like cough, fever, chills or difficulty breathing don’t ignore them. See your doctor right away, follow their recommended treatment plan and make lifestyle changes to avoid getting pneumonia again. Your health is worth it! Stay informed and take action to beat this preventable disease.