Don’t ignore these pneumonia signs
Pneumonia is treatable and does not usually develop into a serious life-threatening condition. But the illness should always be taken seriously.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi, as well as other pathogens. When afflicted, the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50,000 people in the United States die annually from pneumonia, and it is the leading cause of death worldwide for children under age 5. Although most people do recover from pneumonia, the 30-day mortality rate for hospitalized patients is between 5 and 10 percent, and rises to 30 percent for those admitted to intensive care.
“It’s one of the most common reasons why people are admitted to the hospital,” said Falmouth Hospital hospitalist Jonathan Costa, DO. “Because it is so common, most people recover well, but that’s also one of the reasons many people don’t take it seriously. Pneumonia can develop into something more serious, like sepsis, which is the body’s response to the infection, and then it snowballs into an even more severe condition.”
Although people of all ages should seek medical attention when signs of pneumonia appear, it is especially important that those over age 65, children under 2, and others with chronic conditions such as emphysema, heart disease, lung disease, COPD, diabetes and asthma be particularly vigilant to its symptoms. Those who smoke or have issues with alcohol or drugs are also vulnerable to pneumonia.
Among the most common warning signs of pneumonia are a persistent cough that lingers, chest pains, a high-grade fever, chills and a feeling of constant fatigue. With the elderly population, the only sign of pneumonia can often be that the person is experiencing confusion.
“Shortness of breath is another sign, and that is always a reason to go to your doctor or the hospital,” Dr. Costa said. He advised people to seek medical advice if you have any of the following symptoms that persist longer than 10 days:
- Sore throat
- Fever over 101
- Feeling faint
Old and Young are Most Vulnerable
Dr. Costa recommends that children under 2 and all people over 65 get the flu shot and the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination, as well as those who have underlying risk factors. He points out that pneumococcal pneumonia has decreased due to an increase in the vaccination rate in the U.S.
What other things can you do to prevent contracting pneumonia? Here are a few tips from Dr. Costa and the American Lung Association:
- Monitor your health. Watch for symptoms, particularly if you have risk factors. Look for any new or worsening symptoms if you have recently been sick.
- Wash your hands frequently in warm, soapy water, especially after using the bathroom and before eating. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
- Avoid smoking.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, fiber and lean protein.
- Get regular exercise.
“Although pneumonia is a year-round disease, viruses tend to happen more in the winter months, so it’s more commonly associated with those periods,” Dr. Costa said. “But it’s important to remember that even though pneumonia is very common, it is also deadly, so these symptoms should not be ignored.”