Pneumonia develops when you breathe germs into your lungs. The disease is often preceded by the flu or a cold, which makes it harder for your lungs to fight off infection. Long-term or chronic illnesses such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart disease can also increase your risk for pneumonia.
When a person contracts pneumonia, the air sacks (alveoli) may fill with pus or fluid in one or both lungs. This build-up most often causes coughing (with or without mucus), chills, chest pain when breathing or coughing, fast breathing and/or heart rate, fever and fatigue.
Older adults may experience different symptoms with pneumonia. There may or may not be a fever and cough. Or the cough may be present, but not producing any mucus. But the main sign of pneumonia in older generations is confusion, delirium or a change in how they think. Additionally, if a lung disease already exists, that disease may get worse.
Risk factors for contracting pneumonia*:
- Cigarette smoking
- Recent viral respiratory infection (a cold, laryngitis or influenza)
- Difficulty swallowing due to stroke, dementia, Parkinson's disease or other neurological conditions
- Chronic lung disease (COPD, bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis)
- Cerebral palsy
- Other serious illnesses such as heart disease, liver, cirrhosis or diabetes
- Impaired consciousness or brain function due to dementia, stroke or other neurologic conditions
- Recent surgery or trauma
- Having a weakened immune system due to illness, certain medications and autoimmune disorders
Can pneumonia be prevented? Yes it can! Follow the steps below to reduce your risk:
- Don’t smoke, as tobacco lowers your lungs' ability to fight off infection.
- Get a flu vaccine every year since influenza is a common cause of pneumonia.
- Additional vaccines that prevent bacteria or virus infections that may lead to pneumonia are haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), measles, pertussis (whooping cough) and varicella (chickenpox).
- Those at high risk should consider getting a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine.
- Keep up healthy habits of a balanced diet, adequate rest and regular exercise.
- Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing foods.
If you think you have contracted pneumonia, or your cold symptoms persist, make sure to contact your physician. Physicians can prescribe antibiotics and antiviral medications to treat common forms of pneumonia.
*According to the American Lung Association.