Pneumonia is a common condition and, as such, many people tend to drastically underestimate its potential damage and danger. Education is necessary, and it is vital that everyone know the facts about pneumonia, with regard to both treatment and prevention.
Most people have a general idea of what pneumonia is. They know it affects the chest and makes people feel extremely tired and unwell. The more specific information is that it is an inflammatory infection of the lower respiratory system. It can affect one lung, or both lungs might be infected. Pus or fluid can enter the alveoli (the lungs’ air sacs). When this happens, the patient can suffer strained breathing, severe coughing, chills, and fever.
There are four different causes of pneumonia. The two which are by far the most common are bacteria and viruses, while two rarer causes are fungi and parasites. The cause is as important as the illness itself, as it affects the infection’s severity, the people most likely to contract it, and its most effective treatment.
Symptoms of Pneumonia
Pneumonia can sometimes be difficult to detect because of a lack of symptoms or very mild symptoms. On the other end of the spectrum, the symptoms can be extremely severe and debilitating. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, rapid and strained breathing, fever and accompanying chills and sweating, chest pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Pneumonia is something that must be taken very seriously. Complications can result. These can include the accumulation of fluid and abscesses. It is important to remember that the illness is the most dangerous infection on earth, and causes the largest number of deaths. Along with the flu, pneumonia is the ninth most common cause of death in the United States.
Who is Most Likely to Contract and Develop Pneumonia?
People over 65, young children, people with compromised or suppressed immune systems, and people with lung diseases and conditions are most vulnerable to pneumonia. Smokers should remember that their habit compromises the immune system and weakens their lungs.
African Americans and men are more at risk than others. Also, those of us who interact with people closely daily or frequently, like members of the military and students, have high exposure to saliva droplets arising from talking and coughing, and therefore are more likely to become sick.
How Cause Shapes Characteristics
Most of us know intuitively that health and age will affect how sick one becomes, but fewer of us understand that the cause of an individual’s pneumonia (the type of pneumonia) is an extremely significant factor.
Most commonly, pneumonia is contracted in the general community (outside of hospitals and health-care facilities). An individual’s pneumonia is caused by one of the following: bacteria, a virus, or fungi.
Bacteria tends to cause the more serious forms of the illness, and is the most common cause for adult pneumonia. Antibiotics are used for these infections. If the case is very severe, hospitalization is possible.
When pneumonia appears in very young children (under two years old), it is most often caused by a virus. One of these viruses is called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Pneumonia caused by a virus tends to cause a less severe illness than when it is caused by bacteria, but this does not mean we should ever underestimate the potential danger of viral pneumonia.
A particularly dangerous virus is sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which can result in a very severe illness. Viral infections can be more difficult to treat because antibiotics are generally ineffective. The focus is often symptom treatment and management. Ensuring strong fluid intake is vital. If the illness becomes very serious, hospitalization is often necessary. It is important to note that adults as well as children contract viral pneumonia.
Individuals with a severely depressed immune system (HIV/AIDS patients, for example) or other health issue (such as cancer) can be more susceptible to fungal pneumonia. The term “opportunistic pneumonia” is often used when the illness develops in someone with a compromised immune system. Antifungal medication or antibiotics are used for treatment of pneumonia caused by fungus.
While we rely on hospitals to make us better, an unfortunate reality is that sometimes patients contract illnesses while in hospital care. Patients who are dependent on breathing machines are at heightened risk of hospital-acquired pneumonia.
Similarly, health care facilities such as nursing homes are sometimes breeding grounds for this kind of illness. The risk is so high that in 2010 health-care associated pneumonia was found in 2.3 percent of individuals living in nursing homes.
A generally lesser-known type of pneumonia is aspiration pneumonia. A person who accidentally inhales food, gases, liquid, or dust (especially a person with a malfunctioning gag reflex) is at highest risk for this illness.
There are several ways to lessen one’s risk of developing pneumonia. One of them is to obtain seasonal flu shots. Having the flu makes it more likely for someone to develop pneumonia.
People over 65 years old and children under 5 should receive the pneumocoocal pneumonia vaccine. Others who should receive it are smokers and people who suffer from chronic diseases. Examples of such conditions include HIV/AIDS, asthma, and cancer.
Everyday ways of lessening risk include refraining from smoking cigarettes, using your sleeve or a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when having cold or flu symptoms like sneezing and coughing, being conscientious about washing your hands, and making sure tissues you have used are disposed of hygienically.
Last but not least, remember to stay home from work and school when you are sick, especially when you have a fever.