Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs characterized by a cough and difficulty breathing. People with weakened immune systems, those who smoke, children under the age of two and adults over 65 are more prone to contracting pneumonia. Those recovering from a cold or flu are also susceptible to pneumonia.
Pneumonia commonly starts when viruses or bacteria are inhaled into the lungs causing air sacs to become inflamed. This inflammation causes difficulty breathing and air sacs may fill with fluid. Along with breathing issues, symptoms may include fever, coughing, chest pain, increased heart rate and weakness. A chest x-ray may be required to confirm pneumonia along with blood work and testing oxygen levels. The commonly used term, walking pneumonia, refers to people who have mild symptoms.
Antibiotics will help fight bacterial pneumonia. Rest, sleep and fluids will also help speed healing. Pneumonia can become severe depending on age and overall health of the patient. Community-acquired pneumonia, caused by bacteria, or viruses, is the most common type to contract. Hospital-acquired pneumonia can occur in patients on ventilators or those already sick requiring hospitalization. Aspiration pneumonia happens when food, drink or vomit is inhaled into the lungs.
“Anyone with chronic illness is more prone to pneumonia,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said. “These people are also at the highest risk of more severe, even life-threatening infection. Hospitalization is based upon the severity of the presentation, oxygen levels, blood pressure and heart rate and the general health of the patient.”
Respiratory infections, including pneumonia, can be prevented by following good hygiene rules like washing hands regularly with soap and water, cleaning infected surfaces and not smoking.
Immunizations are recommended for both children and adults to protect against pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine is given to children as part of a routine immunization schedule and should be given to any adult who smokes or has chronic illness. All adults should receive vaccination at age 65.