Despite medical advances, including the use of antibiotics, pneumonia is still the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Pneumonia can develop when the lungs are infected by either bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins, causing inflammation. Certain people are at a greater risk for pneumonia than others. They include:
- Elderly people, because the body’s ability to fight off disease diminishes with age.
- People who are hospitalized for other conditions.
- Individuals with a suppressed cough reflex following a stroke.
- Smokers, because tobacco smoke paralyzes the tiny hairs that otherwise help to expel germ-ridden mucus from the lungs.
- People who suffer from malnutrition, alcoholism, or viral infections.
- Anyone with a recent respiratory viral infection.
- People with emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
- People with sickle cell anemia.
- Cancer patients undergoing radiation treatments or chemotherapy, both of which wear down the immune system.
- People with AIDS – HIV (acquired immune deficiency syndrome-human immune deficiency virus).
Signs and Symptoms
Pneumonia symptoms include:
- Chest pain (may worsen when inhaling).
- Fever and chills.
- Coughing with little or no sputum or sometimes with bloody, dark yellow or rust-colored sputum.
- Difficulty in breathing, rapid breathing.
- General fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting.
- Bluish lips and fingertips.
Treatment, Care and Prevention
Treatment for pneumonia will depend on its type (viral, bacterial or chemical, for example) and location. X-rays and sputum analysis and blood tests can help identify these. Treatment includes:
- Getting plenty of bed rest.
- Using a cool mist humidifier in the room or rooms in which you spend most of your time.
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
- Taking acetaminophen to relieve minor discomfort and reduce fever.
- Taking any medications your doctor prescribes. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial pneumonia or to fight a secondary bacterial infection. Antiviral medications if indicated.
- Nose drops, sprays or oral decongestants to treat congestion in the upper respiratory tract.
- Cough medicines as needed, a cough suppressant for a dry, non-productive cough, an expectorant type for a mucus producing cough.
- Removing fluid from the lungs by suction, anti-inflammatory medications, and oxygen therapy may be used for chemically induced pneumonias.
- Also, vaccines against influenza and pneumonococcus (pneumonia bacteria) are available. They are recommended for persons aged 65 and older and for some persons younger than 65 who have certain medical conditions. Ask your doctor about them. (See Immunizations Schedule on page 18).
Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism
© American Institute for Preventive Medicine