What You Need to Know About Pneumonia

What You Need to Know About Pneumonia

This infection can keep you home for over two weeks! Get tips for a speedy recovery, plus ways to prevent pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by many different types of germs, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. One way to catch pneumonia is by breathing in droplets carrying germs—like from someone coughing or sneezing near you.

Usually, your immune system is able to keep infectious particles out of your lungs. But if the germs make it past your body’s defenses, if you come in contact with an especially strong infection or if your immune system is weak, pneumonia can develop.

Healthy people often recover from pneumonia in about two weeks, but some cases are more serious and may require hospitalization.

Who’s at risk for pneumonia?
Certain people are more likely to come down with pneumonia. You may be at higher risk if:

  • You’re an older adult or a young child. Children under two and adults over 65 should get the pneumonia vaccine since they’re at especially high risk.
  • You have a weak immune system or a chronic illness. If you have a weak immune system from a condition like cancer or HIV, ask your doctor how you can protect yourself against pneumonia. He or she may tell you to take extra precautions like wearing a mask in public or avoiding crowded places. They might also suggest getting the PPSV pneumococcal vaccine, a type of pneumonia vaccine for people who have a weak immune system.
  • You’re a smoker. Quitting smoking lowers your risk of pneumonia and other illnesses like lung cancer and heart disease. If you’re a smoker and you have pneumonia, ask your doctor about nicotine replacement gum or patches because tobacco makes it harder for your body to fight the infection.
  • You’re in the hospital. If you’re in the hospital, ask your nurse to help you get out of bed every day. Walking and sitting up helps you to expand your lungs and cough up germs.

You can lower your risk of catching pneumonia by getting the flu vaccine each flu season, which starts around October. The flu is the number-one cause of viral pneumonia—getting vaccinated can protect both you and your loved ones.

Pneumonia symptoms
The main symptom of pneumonia is a cough. You might also experience:

  • A fever
  • Chills, sweats and body aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low energy
  • A headache

Some shortness of breath and chest pain is also expected with pneumonia. But call your doctor if you start having sharp pains with breathing or if your breaths become too fast or abnormal. If you feel like you can’t get air into your lungs, call 911.

How’s pneumonia diagnosed?
Your doctor may take blood tests to see if your blood is infected. Your doctor will also listen to your lungs and a nurse will take your vital signs, which includes checking your temperature and oxygen level. A high fever and low oxygen level can signal that you have a more serious infection.

You may also need a chest X-ray to confirm that you have pneumonia and to learn which parts of your lungs have been affected.

Pneumonia treatment
Treatment depends on the type of infection you have and how serious it is. If bacteria is causing it, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Make sure you take every dose, even if you start feeling better. Doing so can keep the infection from coming back and lower your chances of developing antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem that’s making it harder for doctors to treat infections. In fact, the first round of antibiotics prescribed in the outpatient setting may no longer work for one out of four people with pneumonia, according to research from 2017. That may be due, at least in part, to antibiotic resistance.

Your doctor might also recommend a medication like acetaminophen to lower your fever and relieve body aches. If you have a more serious case of pneumonia, you may need to be hospitalized for IV medications, oxygen therapy and breathing treatments, or vaporized medicine that you inhale to help break up thick mucus secretions.

How can I take care of myself when I have pneumonia?
There are some things you can do to help your body fight the infection:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and consider using a humidifier. Breathing in moist air and staying hydrated can help loosen your secretions, making them easier to cough up.
  • Don’t take over-the-counter cough and cold medications. Avoid OTC meds unless your doctor says they’re okay—they can suppress your cough, making it harder for your body to get rid of the infection.
  • Don’t drink or smoke. Alcohol can interfere with some antibiotics and smoking will irritate your lungs and slow down healing.

When you have pneumonia, your body needs time to recover. Stay home from work and school and be sure to get plenty of rest.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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