Though many of us generally know that pneumonia can be dangerous, even fatal, if not treated quickly or effectively, not everyone knows a lot about how it works and what to do about it.
The team at Accredited Home Care is happy to educate clients and their families, loved ones and caregivers all about pneumonia, how to try to avoid it and what to do if you may have it.
Much of the research into pneumonia shows that treatment options can be effective, but it does require seeking help quickly, whatever your age.
This month is a perfect occasion to learn more about local, state, national and global resources to battle this infectious disease.
The World Health Organization, part of the United Nations, declared Nov. 12 to be World Pneumonia Day in 2009. The goal of this global initiative is to increase awareness of pneumonia, especially people who are at higher risk.
Children are a definite concern – globally it’s considered the highest killer of children under age 5, especially in disadvantaged communities with limited access to clean water and vaccines.
But seniors are also susceptible and have the highest mortality of adults who have this. So it’s also important that they learn about help that can be available.
What it is
At its simplest level, pneumonia refers to fluid in the lungs. This can weaken the body, from creating the need to cough regularly to a reduction in breathing, which further disrupts the body’s respiratory and circulatory process. A weaker body is more susceptible to other health problems, including breathing problems and organ failure.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health, pneumonia is the seventh most common cause of death in total populations. The combination of the flu and pneumonia is the eighth cause of death.
There are actually about 30 different types of pneumonia, the most common being community-acquired.
Many are treated similarly – lots of rest, fluid, and antibiotics. Hospitalization may be required if someone needs to be observed or needs a respirator or other assistance breathing.
American Family Physician said that of the 878,000 adults who were hospitalized in 2010 with community-acquired pneumonia, 71 percent were age 65 or older.
About 10 percent of these patients required care in the ICU and hospitals report a high rate of mortality for people with this condition. There’s also a possibility of contracting hospital-acquired pneumonia, due to certain common bacteria in medical settings.
Contrary to mom’s classic warning, going outside without a hat or in bare feet on a rainy day doesn’t directly cause pneumonia.
But researchers believe that there are several factors that can contribute to contracting community-acquired pneumonia. Poor nutrition is one factor, as is a weak immune system (so mom was kind of right). Other conditions like influenza A and B, rhinovirus, and other respiratory diseases can contribute to its spread.
Medication that weakens the immune system or a treatment of chemo can also increase the risk.
In some cases, people may not realize they have pneumonia until they symptoms are especially noticeable and concerning to people around them. This can be a challenge because the conditions of some winter health conditions, such as the cold, flu or bronchitis, are similar to pneumonia, so someone may not think they need to get checked out immediately.
A primary health provider can offer assistance in determining the severity of pneumonia, often by an exam or listening to the patient’s lungs with a stethoscope.
Symptoms can include:
- A moist, deeper cough where phlegm is produced.
- Shortness of breath
- A lasting fever of 102 or higher
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excess sweating
- Chest pains that are frequent when coughing or breathing
The Mayo Clinic said seniors can also show confusion, mental changes or a lower body temperature.
The Mayo Clinic advises people over 65 to seek treatment right away, even if they’re not sure they actually have pneumonia. This age group is in the highest risk, which could be even higher if they have past health conditions such as respiratory diseases, lung problems, or heart problems.
A provider can diagnose and then determine a possible course of action, which could include a schedule of antibiotics or short- or long-term hospitalization. Perhaps a patient may need immediate observation and treatment with fluids and strong antibiotics for few nights and can be sent home with further care instructions, such as lots of rest.
While antibiotics can generally assist those with pneumonia, those with certain allergies or resistances might require different types.
Because pneumonia can be so frightening and downright deadly, especially as someone ages, health experts advise several steps to minimize exposure to it.
This includes vaccines, focusing on good nutrition and other ways to keep the immune system good and strong, including not smoking.
Practicing good hygiene can also help avoid any bacterial infections. This includes wiping and washing your hands regularly and avoiding people who are infected.
The staff at Accredited Home Care can always share various ways to minimize the risk of contracting pneumonia.