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Understanding Pneumonia…

November 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Health, News, Weekly Columns

( Many people who’ve died from swine flu also have been infected with pneumonia bacteria. Influenza can cause viral pneumonia, but it can also weaken the system enough to allow opportunistic bacteria to surge, resulting in separate, potentially deadly infections. The Flu season is off to a fast start and unfortunately there will be more cases of bacterial infections in people suffering from influenza. Pneumonia is a common and very serious flu complication. Whether viral or bacterial, pneumonia can make you quite ill and may require hospitalization.

The influenza virus is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The virus is then sent into the air allowing other people to inhale it. Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. Some people develop more serious medical complications, such as pneumonia.

More than 200,000 cases of pneumococcal pneumonia occur annually in the United States, and approximately 40,000 Americans die from the disease each year. Are you one of the millions who, each year, ponder whether or not to get a pneumonia vaccine?

Pneumonia is a word that many of us are hearing more and more, as a result of it being contracted with greater frequency. Maybe it is because many of us are getting older – who knows. At any rate, here is some information that could be useful.

Pneumonia is when the lungs get inflamed, usually due to infection. Breathing in certain chemical fumes can also cause pneumonia. It’s a more common problem than most people think. Usually it’s a mild disease, but some forms are very dangerous. In all cases you’ll need a doctor’s advice.

Pneumonia can affect just one section of the lung or many sections of the lung. When both lungs are affected, it’s called double pneumonia.

About 30 different kinds of germs infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. Infected lungs leak fluids and shed dead cells. This material clogs up air sacs and makes it hard for the lungs to do their job of getting oxygen into the blood. Without enough oxygen, none of the cells in your body work as they should.

Pneumonia generally lasts about two weeks. Even healthy people may feel tired or weak for a month or more after the lungs clear up.

Viruses cause about half of all cases of pneumonia. Bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia in adults over the age of 30. Fungi can also cause pneumonia.

Many of these germs are all around us. They usually can’t get past a healthy person’s natural defenses. That’s why pneumonia is most common in elderly people, in cigarette smokers, in alcoholics, and in people suffering from other diseases such as the flu.

What Are the Symptoms?

    * Viral pneumonia usually comes with a combination of low fever and chills, muscle aches, fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, chest pain, sore throat, and coughing. The cough generally brings up only a small amount of mucus.

    * Bacterial pneumonia usually comes with a combination of high fever, cough with thick greenish or rust-colored mucus, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, sharp chest pain that is worse with deep breaths, abdominal pain, and severe fatigue. There can be profuse sweating and mental confusion.

    * In children, labored and rapid breathing (more than 45 breaths a minute); sudden onset of fever; cough; wheezing; and bluish skin, lips, or fingertips are general signs of pneumonia.

    * Mycoplasma pneumonia (mild pneumonia that usually affects people younger than 40) is often very benign and resolves without any treatment. Symptoms can consist of violent attacks of coughing that bring up only a small amount of mucus. There are chills and fever; some people get nausea or vomiting. Some patients become very weak for up to a month.

Call Your Doctor If:

    * Your symptoms indicate you have any form of pneumonia. In many instances, you need immediate treatment to recover and avoid complications.

    * Your sharp chest pain does not get better with prescribed treatment; you have increased shortness of breath; or your fingernails, toenails, or skin becomes dark or develops a bluish tinge after diagnosis. Your lungs are not getting enough oxygen and you need medical assistance.

    * You cough up blood; you may need additional treatment for a worsening infection.

Pneumonia’s forms range from a mild condition treatable at home to a potentially fatal infection requiring hospitalization. You must see your doctor to guarantee appropriate treatment and a successful recovery. Your doctor will first listen to your chest for crackling noises and tap your chest to check for dull thuds indicating fluid-filled lungs. If necessary, an X-ray can confirm that you have pneumonia, showing where air sacs in the lungs are filled with fluid and debris. Blood and mucus samples, sometimes obtained by inserting a tube down the trachea into the lungs, may be tested for bacteria or viruses, but the results are not always conclusive.

Early treatment is most effective. See a doctor right away if you think you might have pneumonia. Exactly which drug is used to treat pneumonia depends on the type of germ and on your doctor’s treatment strategy.

Antibiotics can cure bacterial pneumonia and make recovery from mycoplasma pneumonia much quicker. Sometimes antiviral drugs can be used to treat certain types of viral pneumonia, but there is not yet any treatment that works against all causes.

In most cases, treatment must be continued until most symptoms are gone. This is to be sure that all the germs are killed. Relapse of pneumonia is nearly always much more severe than the original disease.

Supportive treatment often helps. This can include medicines that ease chest pain and relieve violent coughing. Sometimes oxygen is needed. In all cases, a proper diet speeds recovery.

Young, healthy people can feel perfectly fine only a week after recovery. A middle-aged person may not regain full strength for several weeks. In all cases, plenty of rest is needed. People generally can return to work as soon as they feel up to it, but they will need to take it easy at first.

As with all diseases, a healthy lifestyle — proper diet, regular exercise, good hygiene — decrease the chance of illness and speed recovery from infection.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.


Written By Glenn Ellis

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