Respiratory infections are much more common in the wintertime. Although the majority of respiratory illnesses aren’t life threatening, some certainly can be. Pneumonia is one that falls into this category. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi. In many cases, pneumonia is also associated with another infection or aspiration of a foreign substance into the lungs. Since pneumonia can be deadly if left untreated, understanding its signs and symptoms is crucial. Likewise, knowing how to prevent pneumonia could help save the life of you or a loved one. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common symptoms and signs of pneumonia, what causes it, and how you can prevent it.
What is Pneumonia?
In general, pneumonia is a disease that affects the small air sacs inside the lungs. Inflammation in these sacs causes them to fill with fluid or pus. In turn, the lungs aren’t able to work efficiently at bringing oxygen into the body.
Although pneumonia is most dangerous for small children and the elderly, it can affect people of any age. Thankfully, modern treatments and knowledge about the disease make it less frightening than it was in the past.
That being said, severe cases of pneumonia can still be deadly or require hospitalization—even for previously healthy individuals.
What Causes Pneumonia?
As mentioned, pneumonia can be caused by a variety of factors. The most common culprit is bacteria. It spreads from the coughs, sneezes, and secretions of someone who is sick. The bacteria responsible for causing pneumonia, typically from the Streptococcus family, can also live in your throat. If it moves into your lungs, then problems may arise.
Meanwhile, viruses can also lead to pneumonia. This includes viruses like influenza, RSV, the common cold, and COVID-19. In general, viral pneumonia is less severe than bacterial or fungal pneumonia.
Speaking of, fungal pneumonia is caused by inhaling spores of fungi from soil, bird droppings, or contaminated areas. This is much less common and typically affects people working in high-risk areas and those with immune system deficiencies.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Most people who have pneumonia experience symptoms that are similar to the flu or a bad cold in the early stages. However, symptoms and signs of pneumonia tend to get worse the longer they are left untreated.
Serious cases of pneumonia can last for several weeks to more than a month. If not treated properly, symptoms can have a lasting effect on the body.
As time goes on, many people experience worse symptoms, including:
- Chest pain with coughing or deep breathing
- Fever and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Increased respiratory rate
How Can You Prevent Pneumonia?
As mentioned, the best way to deal with pneumonia is by preventing it. There are many things you can do to keep you and your loved ones safe.
Some of the best prevention measures include getting an annual flu vaccine and the recommended course of the pneumococcal vaccine. This helps give you immunity against two of the most common causes of pneumonia.
Another good prevention tip is to avoid smoking. The lungs of a smoker have a much harder time recovering from pneumonia and are more susceptible to respiratory infections.
Meanwhile, practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding sick people can also help prevent pneumonia. The same goes for avoiding large crowds—especially in the wintertime.