What is Pneumonia and How Do You Get It?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria-like germs. It can be life threatening for some people unless it is caught early.
Pneumonia often starts as a respiratory infection, such as a cold, flu, or bronchitis (inflammation of the main airways to the lungs). Some types of pneumonia are caused by aspiration (inhalation of food, drink, vomit, or saliva from the mouth into the lungs). Aspiration pneumonia may occur in people with illnesses or disorders that affect normal swallowing.
Are Some People at More Risk of Getting Pneumonia?
People with chronic health conditions are more at risk to contract pneumonia. Be especially careful if you have one of the following chronic conditions:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Congestive heart failure
- HIV infection (HIV is the infection that causes AIDS)
- Stroke (especially those with swallowing problems)
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Symptoms of pneumonia may include:
- High fever
- Increased mucus
- Chills and shaking
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling of being very tired
- Headache or muscle aches
- Lips or nails that look bluish in color
- Confusion (a more common sign among older people)
To help diagnose pneumonia, your doctor may order the following tests:
- A chest X-ray
- Blood tests
- Sputum (mucus) tests
- An O2 saturation test (measures the amount of oxygen in your blood)
- A swallowing evaluation
How is Pneumonia Treated?
- Depending on the type of pneumonia you have, antibiotics may be prescribed. Early treatment with antibiotics can stop the infection and cure pneumonia caused by bacteria.
- Other medications that may help relieve your symptoms may also be ordered, such as a pain-reliever to ease chest pain due to coughing, an expectorant (to loosen mucus), cough syrup and/or a suppressant (to silence a cough).
- Learn the best way to cough. Sit in a chair and take a deep breath. Lean forward slightly as you sharply cough twice into a tissue. At the same time, push your arm up on your abdomen. You may also support your abdomen with a pillow to make coughing less painful. Relax for a moment, then repeat.
- Assistance with mucus removal may be required through breathing treatments and suctioning.
- Wash your hands often. Germs are spread on hands, so wash them often. Use soap and rub your hands for 20-30 seconds under running water. Clean between your fingers and around your nails. Dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Increase your fluid intake and get adequate nutrition.
- Get plenty of rest.
What Should I Do When I Get Home?
If you are given a prescription for antibiotics, take them as ordered by your doctor until they are all gone. Remember to take all of the medication your doctor has prescribed. Ask the pharmacist if you have questions.
- Avoid missing or doubling up on doses.
- Use a pillbox if you have trouble remembering to take your medications.
- Drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Water and juice are best. Coffee and soft drinks with caffeine don't count. You may want to avoid milk products until you are feeling better. Check with your physician if you are on fluid restrictions.
- Make healthy food choices, including fruits and vegetables that give your body the strength to fight the infection. If you don't feel hungry, try eating smaller, more frequent meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than three big meals.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if:
- Your temperature is 101 degrees F or higher.
- You develop nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- You are coughing up bloody mucus.
- You have any problems such as a rash, itching, swelling or stomach pain that may be related to the medicine you are taking.
- You develop rib pain not relieved by medication.
- You have trouble breathing or have dark or bluish fingernails, toenails, or skin.
- You develop a severe headache, neck stiffness, or start having difficulty caring for yourself.
- You feel worse.
How Can I Stay Well?
Doing one or all of the following will increase your chances of avoiding pneumonia.
- Get vaccinated. Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccine or yearly flu shot. Although these vaccines do not protect you from all types of flu and pneumonia, they may lower your risk by protecting you from certain types of bacteria that cause these illnesses.
- Wash your hands often to keep from picking up germs.
- Don't smoke. Stay away from places where people smoke. Ask your nurse or respiratory therapist about Kuakini's Nicotine Dependence Program if you are interested in quitting smoking.
- Avoid people who have colds or the flu.
- Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of fluids.
- Be active. Even mild physical activity can help you be healthier. Check with your physician if you have any limitation on your activity.