Winter is Coming: Pneumonia

What is pneumonia?

It is an infection within the lungs. Typically, the small air sacs within the lungs fill with fluid or pus.

Is it serious or life threatening?

It can be. It can be mild or so severe that it requires hospitalization. Sometimes it is so severe that it causes sepsis and the patient to be dependent on a ventilator.

What are the symptoms?

  • chest pain with breathing or coughing (pleurisy)
  • cough, with or without phlegm
  • fatigue
  • fever and chills
  • shortness of breath
  • lethargy

In adults older than 65, infections can cause confusion or bizarre behavior. It can also cause lower than normal body temperature as opposed to high fever.

What is the cause of pneumonia?

Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause. We classify pneumonia based on what is causing it and where you got it. We will focus on the “community-acquired” pneumonias.

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in the United States. It can occur on its own, but it often times happens after one has a cold virus or the flu.
  • Walking pneumonia is caused by mycoplasma bacteria. It is typically less mild than other types of pneumonia. (It is usually not bad enough to cause someone to take to their bed, hence the term “walking pneumonia”.)
  • Viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in kiddos below the age of 5. It is usually mild, but can become serious.

There are also hospital-acquired, health care-associated, and aspiration pneumonias, but these will not be addressed in this article.

Who is at risk?

Children less than 2 and adults over 65 are the individuals at greatest risk. Naturally, diseases that affect your lungs will leave you more prone to infections. Therefore, COPD, asthma, and heart disease put you at increased risk. Smoking also greatly increases your risk since smoking damages the cilia that help “clean” your bronchi.

Does going outside with wet hair and bare feet cause pneumonia?

No, but your grandma was right. You don’t need to go outside with we hair and bare feet.

How does the doctor know if I have pneumonia?

We will listen to your history and do a physical exam. Listening to you explain your symptoms and listening to your lungs can tell us a lot about what is going on. Usually we will get a chest x-ray to confirm our suspicions.

How do you treat it?

Antibiotics are generally required to treat pneumonia. We also use cough medications to treat the cough and tylenol (acetaminophen) or motrin (ibuprofen) to treat the pain and fever.

Do I need an X-ray to see if it “cleared up”?

No, because it can take months before your x-ray looks normal again, even when the infection is gone. If you continue to exhibit symptoms after your antibiotics are complete, we will usually order a CT scan for a more detailed image and see if anything else is going on.

How do I prevent it?

  • Vaccines: If you have lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, or you are over the age of 65, you need to get your pneumonia vaccines. Also, getting a flu shot will help protect you.
  • Quit smoking!
  • Wash your hands!
  • Get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to keep your immune system strong!

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