Story by: Lynn Choate on April 8, 2016
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
Norton Community Medical Associates primary care providers in Louisville, Southern Indiana and surrounding areas offer care at over 30 convenient locations. Our offices are staffed by teams of experienced physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical care providers.
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.
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.
“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.
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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