The Danger of Pneumonia
It’s that time of year when cold, flu and stomach viruses tend to be at their worst. While some will be lucky enough to escape the season with nothing more than perhaps a few sniffles, others will develop more serious winter illnesses, namely bronchitis and pneumonia. The two may share a number of common traits and symptoms, but pneumonia can lead to serious complications—particularly for the elderly and those with weak immune systems.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a respiratory illness, which affects the lungs. It can be bacterial or viral in nature, occasionally stemming from a cold that has gone on to develop into bronchitis. Unlike bronchitis, which affects the airway and bronchial passages, pneumonia affects air sacs within the lungs—called “alveoli”—causing them to fill up with mucus or fluid due to inflammation. This issue can progress if the illness is left untreated and may make it difficult for the affected person to breathe properly or get enough oxygen.
Types of Pneumonia
Did you know that there are two main types of Pneumonia? The main types are bacterial pneumonia and viral pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is of course caused by various bacteria with the most common being streptococcus. The bacteria will find its way into your lungs when the body is weak due to illness, poor nutrition, old age or an impaired immune system. Viral pneumonia is caused by various viruses with the most common being influenza and RSV. Viral pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia and usually occurs in young children and older adults. A sub-type of bacterial pneumonia is “atypical” pneumonia. Mycoplasma pneumonia is a type of “atypical” bacteria that may cause a form of pneumonia commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia” due to its milder symptoms including fatigue, sore throat and cough.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe and include the following:
- Mucus production
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Body aches
Who is at Risk?
Anyone can get pneumonia however; there are certain groups who experience higher risk. Adults ages 65+, children younger than 2, people with an impaired immune system and people who smoke are all at the highest risk. Those with chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, COPD and diabetes also have an increased risk.
Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia
To properly diagnose pneumonia, a treating provider will conduct a physical exam with a focus on your vital signs and listening to your lungs while also taking an account of your symptom history. If pneumonia is expected, a chest x-ray maybe performed to confirm the infection’s extent and location; blood and sputum may also be tested in order to identify the cause of the infection.
Treatment will vary depending on the type of pneumonia diagnosed. Most cases of pneumonia can be treated at home with medications; antibiotics are usually prescribed for bacterial pneumonia including mycoplasma pneumonia. Viral pneumonia generally requires lots of rest and will get better on its own. Hospitalization may be required for severe forms of the illness if the affected patient is elderly, immunocompromised or the pneumonia reduces the blood oxygen.
Pneumonia can come on fast and will progress quickly. If you suspect pneumonia in yourself or a family member, just stop into any ConvenientMD location in Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Maine to get evaluated and treated! All clinics are open 8am – 8pm, 7 days a week, and you can just walk in without having to make an appointment.