Can you die from pneumonia? | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Can you die from pneumonia?

Nearly 50,000 people in the United States die from pneumonia each year. Seniors and children are particularly vulnerable to death from pneumonia.

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 intravenously and to allow health care providers to monitor breathing.

How Can You Die From Pneumonia?

Children and adults over 65 are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia.

When triggered by an infection of bacteria, virus or fungus, the lungs’ air sacs fill with fluid that can thicken into phlegm. The patient is starved of oxygen, struggles to breathe and, without treatment, can succumb to asphyxiation.

World Pneumonia Day is observed each Nov. 12. Pneumonia kills nearly 1 million children younger than 5 each year around the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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., hospitalist and internal medicine physician with Norton Inpatient Specialists.

Pneumonia sometimes develops as a result of 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,” Dr. Jarvis 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, according to Dr. Jarvis.

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.”

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Pneumonia Treatment

Without treatment, pneumonia can get worse and lead to further complications, according to Dr. Jarvis. 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, according to Dr. Jarvis. It will lessen your risk for developing lung infections as well as improve your overall health.

Keep Up to Date on Vaccines

“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.

The CDC recommends two pneumococcal vaccines for adults 65 years or older.

  • Get a dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) first. Then get a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) at least 1 year later.
  • If you’ve already received PPSV23, get PCV13 at least 1 year after receipt of the most recent PPSV23 dose.
  • If you’ve already received a dose of PCV13 at a younger age, CDC does not recommend another dose.

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


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