Pneumonia is an inflammatory lung condition that can affect one or both lungs. It is typically caused by an infection and is most commonly bacterial in nature. However, it can also be viral or fungal. Furthermore, its severity can vary from mild to life-threatening. Here’s a basic overview of pneumonia:
Most cases of bacterial pneumonia are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. Other bacteria, like Haemophilus influenzae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, can also cause this type of pneumonia.
Viruses such as the influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) can lead to viral pneumonia.
Fungal pneumonia is less common and often affects people with weakened immune systems. Those with high risk from getting this infection are the ones with HIV/AIDS or those taking immunosuppressive medications.
– Cough, which may produce mucus
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain, especially during deep breaths
– Confusion (particularly in older adults)
Several factors can increase the risk of developing pneumonia, including:
– Age (very young and elderly are at higher risk)
– Weakened immune system
– Chronic lung diseases (e.g., COPD)
– Recent respiratory infection
– Recent surgery
– Exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants
A healthcare provider will typically diagnose pneumonia based on the following:
– a combination of symptoms,
– physical examination,
– imaging tests like chest X-rays,
– blood tests to identify the specific cause of the infection.
The treatment of pneumonia depends on its cause:
Antibiotics are prescribed. The choice of antibiotics will depend on the specific bacteria causing the infection.
Antiviral medications may be prescribed in some cases, but often, treatment is supportive (rest, fluids, and fever-reducing medication).
Antifungal medications are used for treatment.
Preventing pneumonia involves a combination of lifestyle choices, vaccinations, and hygiene practices. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting pneumonia:
There are vaccines available that protect against pneumococcal bacteria which is a common cause of bacterial pneumonia. The vaccine is particularly important for older adults, young children, and people with certain medical conditions.
Getting an annual flu shot can help prevent pneumonia caused by the influenza virus. Influenza can lead to secondary bacterial infections that can develop into pneumonia.
– Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Have this done especially before eating and after coughing or sneezing.
– Use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available.
– Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets.
– Smoking damages the lungs and increases the risk of respiratory infections, including pneumonia. If you smoke, consider quitting, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
– Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables to support your immune system.
– Exercise regularly to maintain good overall health and lung function.
– Get enough sleep to keep your immune system strong.
– Manage stress, as chronic stress can weaken your immune system.
– Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system. This is making it harder for your body to fight off infections.
– If someone you know has a contagious respiratory infection, try to limit close contact especially in confined spaces.
– Sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, can weaken the immune system. As such, it makes the body more susceptible to pneumonia. Safe sex practices can help reduce this risk.
– Good dental hygiene can help prevent aspiration pneumonia. This occurs when oral bacteria enter the lungs. Brush and floss your teeth regularly and have regular dental check-ups.
– If you have a medical condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, work closely with your healthcare provider. They are there to manage your health and minimise infection risks.
While these measures can help reduce your risk of contracting pneumonia, it’s important to remember that it’s not always possible to completely eliminate the risk. If you have specific concerns or underlying health conditions, consult with a healthcare provider for personalised advice on prevention, treatment, and management.