Can you die from pneumonia?

Nearly 50,000 people in the United States die from pneumonia each year. For most patients, pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics, rest and fluids. 

Nearly 50,000 people in the United States die from pneumonia each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For most patients, pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics, rest and fluids. More serious cases may require a hospital stay to deliver antibiotics intravensously and to allow health care providers to monitor breathing.

How do you get pneumonia?

“Your lungs become infected with a pathogen, either bacterial or viral, when you breathe in or come in contact with these organisms,” said Patrick M. Jarvis, M.D., internal medicine physician, Norton Inpatient Specialists.

Dr. Jarvis said that in some cases pneumonia develops as a result of other illnesses, such as the flu, bronchitis or other upper respiratory infections that linger.

“If you are a normally healthy person, a small amount of the organism getting into your lungs may not cause an infection. Your body fights it off and you never even feel sick,” he said. “But if the bacteria or virus begins to grow and multiply it can cause a problem, or if your immune system is already compromised due to other health conditions, then the illness can progress and you can develop a full infection.”

Even a healthy person can sometimes develop pneumonia; the illness isn’t limited to those with a compromised immune system, Dr. Jarvis said.

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Primary care physicians and advanced practice providers at Norton Community Medical Associates provide family medicine, including care for the flu, throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.

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Pneumonia symptoms

  • Cough that produces yellow or green mucus
  • High fever
  • Sweating
  • Shivers
  • Decreased appetite
  • Generally not feeling well
  • Headaches and body aches

“If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor to pinpoint your diagnosis and begin treatment,” Dr. Jarvis said. “Your physician will specifically ask about your breathing — if it is labored or if you are becoming winded easily — as well as listen to your breath to hear sounds similar to crackling in your chest. These are all signs of pneumonia.”

Pneumonia treatment

Without treatment, pneumonia can get worse and lead to further complications, Dr. Jarvis said. For most people, treating pneumonia requires just a visit to the doctor for oral antibiotics, followed by lots of rest and increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Severe cases may require a hospital stay, which allows the patient to receive antibiotics by IV and have medical professionals monitor breathing if it becomes more labored.

How to prevent pneumonia

Don’t smoke. Smokers are one group most at risk for pneumonia. Cigarette smoke damages the lining of the airways and makes the lungs more prone to infection. If you are a smoker — quit, Dr. Jarvis said. It will lessen your risk for developing lung infections as well as improve your overall health.

Keep up to date on vaccines. Other groups of people who have a higher risk for pneumonia include children under age 5 and the elderly.

“Making sure your child is current on vaccines, including whooping cough, or pertussis, is important. And for those over age 65, there is a pneumonia vaccine that your doctor or pharmacist will recommend,” Dr. Jarvis said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two pneumonia vaccines are available:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) is recommended for all children age 5 or younger, all adults age 65 or older, and people between ages 6 and 64 who have certain risk factors, such as a heart condition or suppressed immune system.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) is recommended for all adults age 65 or older, and people between ages 2 and 64 who are at a high risk for pneumococcal diseases.

You should speak with your doctor to determine which vaccine is best for you and when you should be vaccinated, Dr. Jarvis said.


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