Pneumonia is a lung infection that is caused by germs, like – viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It affects individuals of all ages, however, it occurs most often in children and the elderly.
The infection causes the lungs’ air sacs to become inflamed and fill up with pus or fluid. This can make it significantly harder for the oxygen you breathe in to get into the bloodstream.
An estimated 1 million American adults seek care in a hospital due to this disease every year, and at least 50,000 die from pneumonia.
In 2014, the 8th cause of mortality in the US reported by the National Center for Health Statistics was pneumonia and influenza. Also, the number of visits to emergency departments with pneumonia as the main diagnosis is around 255,000.
Worldwide, it is the leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age, accounting for 16 percent of all deaths of children under 5 years old.
There are several types of pneumonia, including:
- Mycoplasma pneumonia – it is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae;
- Viral pneumonia – this type is caused by various viruses, including the flu;
- Bacterial pneumonia – this type is caused by various bacteria.
The symptoms of pneumonia may include:
- confusion, particularly in older people;
- vomiting and nausea, particularly in small children;
- low energy;
- loss of appetite;
- sharp chest pain which gets worse when you cough or breathe deeply;
- rapid, shallow breathing;
- shortness of breath;
- shaking chills;
- cough, that may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus.
Complications may include:
- sepsis – this is when the infection gets into the blood;
- respiratory failure – this requires the use of a ventilator or breathing machine;
- lung abscesses – they may need to be drained with surgery;
- acute respiratory distress syndrome – this is a severe form of respiratory failure.
The disease is caused by a number of infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The most common are:
- in infants infected with HIV, Pneumocystis jiroveci is one of the most common causes of pneumonia;
- respiratory syncytial virus – it is the most common viral cause of pneumonia;
- Haemophilus influenzae type b – it is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia;
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – it is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children.
Infants and children 2 years of age or younger are at increased risk since their immune systems are not yet fully developed.
People age 65 and over are at increased risk due to the fact that their immune system is becoming less able to fight off infection as years go by.
Other risk factors include:
Exposure to certain chemicals, toxic fumes or pollutants, including secondhand smoke.
Alcohol and drug abuse increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
Cigarette smoking damages the lungs.
Hospitalization, particularly when in intensive care and using a ventilator to breathe.
Recent viral respiratory infection – laryngitis, a cold, influenza, etc.
Difficulty swallowing, due to Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke, or other neurological conditions, that can result in aspiration of saliva, vomit, or food, into the lungs which then becomes infected.
A weakened immune system due to an organ transplant, HIV/AIDs, long-term steroid use, or chemotherapy.
Heart disease, sickle cell disease, or diabetes.
Chronic lung diseases like bronchiectasis, COPD, or cystic fibrosis which make the lungs more vulnerable.
Your healthcare provider will use a physical exam, your medical history, and lab tests to diagnose the disease.
Most sufferers can manage their symptoms like cough and fever at home by following these steps:
- get lots of rest – it is important not to overdo daily activities until you are fully recovered. Get as much help as you can with household chores or meal preparation until you are feeling stronger. You may need to stay in bed for a while.
- stay away from smoke to let your lungs heal – this would be a good time to think about quitting for good. Talk to your healthcare professional if you are a smoker and are having trouble staying smoke-free while you recover.
- use a humidifier, take steamy baths, and drink warm beverages to help open the airways and ease the breathing. Contact your healthcare provider right away if your breathing gets worse instead of better over time.
- do not take cough medicines without first talking to your doctor – if your cough is preventing you from getting the rest you need, ask your healthcare professional about steps you can take to get relief. Note – coughing is one way your body works to get rid of an infection.
- drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
- control your fever with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, like – naproxen or ibuprofen), aspirin, or acetaminophen.
Important note – do not give aspirin to children.
According to a 2010 study that was published in “Public Health Nutrition,” study participants who follow diets rich in vegetables, legumes, and fruits are less likely to develop upper respiratory infections, like pneumonia.
Vegetables, legumes, and fruits rich in antioxidants include – oranges, blueberries, blackberries, mangoes, papayas, strawberries, pineapples, apples, kale, broccoli, spinach, winter squash, pears, tomatoes, cabbage, onion, garlic, cucumbers, olives, avocadoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and peppers.
Note – water helps to moisten the tissues along your respiratory tract and flush out waste products. This significantly helps your immune system and lungs to filter and get rid of foreign particles.
Practice good hygiene
Common winter infections substantially increase the risk of pneumonia, therefore, practice good hygiene (like use a tissue when you sneeze or cough) to reduce the spread of germs.
Don’t smoke tobacco
Smokers, as well as people who are exposed to secondhand smoke, have a notable increased risk of developing this disease and other chest infections. Therefore, it is recommended to make your house a smoke-free zone.
Other steps you can take to protect yourself against pneumonia include:
- have a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds;
- have good sleeping habits (7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night and go to bet at 10.00 PM);
- practice mindfulness meditation (at least a session of 20 minuted per day);
- spend time in nature, especially during the day to boost your vitamin D levels;
- live in an area where the air is clean.