You Can Take Action to Fight Pneumonia
Pneumonia can be one of the worst illnesses that a senior can encounter and is generally spread by being out in the community. It is a leading cause of death among seniors age 65 with a frequency four times higher than younger adults. There are things you can do to both protect yourself and get help quickly if pneumonia strikes you or a loved one.
Usually caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or other organisms, pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs according to the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. This inflammation causes an outpouring of fluid in the infected part of the lungs, affecting either one or both lungs. The blood flow to the infected portion of the lung (or lungs) decreases, meaning oxygen levels in the bloodstream can decline.
Pneumonia can be caused by more than thirty different organisms. This variety of strains means that the symptoms may vary from case to case, however, some of the following symptoms may indicate the presence of pneumonia:
- Malaise or feeling weak
- Green or yellow sputum
- Pain in the chest
- Shortness of Breath
Part of the issue is that someone with pneumonia may think they only have a cold or flu. The elderly are often prone to having fevers and some respiratory problems which either makes them more susceptible to pneumonia or masks the presence of it.
At a high level, there are two types of pneumonia: viral and bacterial. The only way to be certain of which type a person has is from a blood or phlegm test administered by a medical professional. In the case of viral, some patients may be prescribed antiviral medications – antibiotics are typically not effective against viral strains. For viral strains the patient usually heals via a regimen of plenty of rest, fluids and by eating healthy foods. Bacterial pneumonia is always treated with antibiotics. The only way to be certain whether pneumonia is present or not (and the type) is through tests administered by a doctor or certified medical professional.
Pneumonia is usually transmitted through the air or by hand-to-hand contact with an infected person and strikes people with weakened immune systems – meaning the elderly are more vulnerable. There are some steps you can take to keep the disease at bay.
- Good health habits: Healthy eating, exercise and plenty of rest promote a stronger immune system which helps increase the resistance to pneumonia.
- Dental hygiene: Pneumonia infections can occur around infected teeth – so dental work should be kept in good repair.
- Hand washing: Hands should be washed often and thoroughly – with special attention to times right after contact with other people.
- Pneumococcal vaccine: This vaccine prevents about twenty-three varieties of pneumonia but does not always work well in seniors. It also requires ‘booster’ shots on a regular basis – check with your doctor for recommendation. Adults 65 and older need two vaccines to better protect them from bacterial infection in the blood (called sepsis), meningitis and pneumonia, according to a revised vaccination schedule from the 2015 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
- Influenza vaccine: Seniors should get a flu vaccine every year. While the pneumococcal vaccine can be effective – it does not always promote a strong immunological response in seniors – a flu shot may help. Seniors should get a flu shot annually anyway, but pneumonia is often a secondary result of having the flu. Additionally, people that do get the flu even after a flu shot experience milder symptoms and have less risk of developing pneumonia as a result of contracting the flu.