Lung health is very important and can be easily affected by many different things (COPD, a cold, age).
Some individuals are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia than others, so it is important to find out if you are one of those individuals.
What is Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an infection in the air sacs in the lungs, either one or both lungs.
The infection can consist of the air sacs filling with fluid or puss, coughing with or without phlegm, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.
Many illnesses are caused by one of the following: bacteria, viruses or fungi, but pneumonia can be caused by any of the three.
Pneumonia can become very serious if not caught in time, which can lead to death.
Children under 5 and adults over 65 are at a higher risk than those between 5 and 65.
Pneumonia can stem from other respiratory infections, such as the flu.
Symptoms of Pneumonia:
- Coughing, with or without mucus production (can be green, yellow or bloody)
- Fever (mild or high)
- Shaking & chills
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
- Confusion or change in mental awareness
- Shortness of breath
Who is at Risk?
Anyone can get pneumonia, but there are some risk factors that put people at a higher risk than others.
Pneumonia risk factors include being younger than 5 or older than 65, smoking, a cold (the flu, a viral respiratory infection), difficulty swallowing, chronic lung disease, cerebral palsy, heart disease, diabetes, living in a nursing home, impaired consciousness, surgery/trauma and having a weakened immune system.
Age is a factor as those younger than 5 and older than 65 have a weakened immune system.
Smoking can increase your risk as well because it can cause COPD or other respiratory conditions.
A viral respiratory infection (cold, flu) is a factor because your body is focused on fighting that illness and can have a hard time fighting off other illnesses.
If you struggle to swallow (often from a stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions) you are at risk because you can possible breath in a foreign object.
Chronic lung disease (COPD, cystic fibrosis) can leave you at risk because your lung function is poor and the tissue in the lungs is weak, allowing it to become infected easier.
Cerebral palsy can be a risk for pneumonia as those with CP often have a lower activity level and it can cause air passages to become infected easier.
Heart disease and diabetes are similar to CP, as the lack of activity can play a role in infections in the airways.
Living in a nursing home can put you at risk, as many who live there have weakened immune systems and often get sick.
Impaired consciousness is a factor in pneumonia because it prevents oxygen from getting to your blood and this can prevent your cells from working correctly and defend off infections.
Surgery/trauma can also be a risk as your body is trying to heal the injury, and it also makes your body weak, making it easy for you to become sick.
Having a weakened immune system is a huge risk factor, as your body cannot properly protect itself from the illness (either getting the cold/flu and then pneumonia, or just pneumonia).
COPD & Pneumonia
COPD is a broad term for multiple lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
This can cause blocked airways and difficulty breathing, which can then cause other conditions.
For those with COPD there is a higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Pneumonia is common for those with COPD, as the tissue in the lungs is easily infected because the immune system is not fully functioning.
The immune system is not fully functioning because those with COPD do not get enough oxygen, which can affect the body’s cells, and those cells defend against infection.
It can be hard for COPD patients to determine if their symptoms are due to COPD or something else, such as the flu or pneumonia.
That is why it is so important to contact your doctor if you are not sure about the symptoms you are experiencing, as it could be normal or something more serious.
Getting a flu shot can lower your risk of pneumonia immensely, as the flu is a very common cause of pneumonia.
Vaccines for pertussis, chicken pox and measles can also help lower your risk of developing pneumonia.
Washing your hands can also play a huge role in preventing pneumonia, as it can prevent bacteria from getting into your body (preparing foods, eating with your hands, etc).
Washing your hands can also prevent you from spreading any bacteria to others who may be at a higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Quitting smoking is important to prevent pneumonia as cigarette smoke can make it harder for your body to fight off infection.
Lastly, make sure to know your body and your health. What we mean by this is that you should notice any weird symptoms that can occur after a respiratory infection and last a lot longer than normal.
Pneumonia can be scary, and even life-threatening, so knowing the risks and symptoms can prepare you if you or a loved one ever have concerns.
COPD is a common risk factor of pneumonia but knowing the difference between your regular symptoms and new symptoms can help you determine if a trip to the doctor is needed.
By washing your hands and getting a yearly flu shot, you are taking preventative methods to steer clear of pneumonia.
If you also feel concern with your risk of developing pneumonia, speak with your doctor and see what other steps you can take to protect yourself.