Everything You Need to Know About Pneumonia
Prevention, symptoms, treatment, and recovery
Pneumonia is a respiratory illness, or lung infection, caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus. It can be mild or serious and may affect one or both lungs at the same time. Pneumonia affects people of all ages, although some people may be at higher risk than others. Older adults (over age 65), young children (under age 2) and people who smoke are more at risk. People with some chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, may also be more susceptible to pneumonia. This blog will walk through everything you need to know about pneumonia including prevention, symptoms, treatment, and recovery.
Can pneumonia be prevented?
The best way to prevent serious complications from pneumonia is to take steps to avoid getting sick with other respiratory illnesses that may lead to pneumonia. Ways to do this include washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others who are sick, refraining from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and practicing other good health habits.
While there’s no sure way to guarantee you won’t get pneumonia, having healthy lifestyle habits such as not smoking, limiting alcohol, exercising regularly, eating healthy and managing chronic health conditions will help keep your lungs healthier and your immune system stronger, making it more likely that your body can fight off pneumonia and other illnesses.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
Symptoms of pneumonia may vary in severity and duration. They may include:
- Cough, which may produce phlegm
- Fever, sweating and chills
- Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing deeply or rapid breathing
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
- Bluish color to lips or nails
- Mental confusion (especially in older adults)
What to do if you have symptoms
If you suspect you have pneumonia or have symptoms of pneumonia, see a doctor as soon as possible. Getting a proper diagnosis and beginning treatment is the best way to avoid serious complications.
Diagnosis may be made through a physical exam during which a doctor listens to your lungs using a stethoscope. He or she may also ask about your symptoms and health history as well as check your blood oxygen level using a pulse oximeter. Other ways to diagnose pneumonia include chest x-ray or CT scan, bloodwork or other tests that identify fluid in the lungs.
What does treatment involve?
Treatment for pneumonia depends on the severity of the illness and the type of pneumonia you have (bacterial or viral). If you have mild to moderate illness, you can usually be treated at home with:
- Antibiotics. If you have bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics will help clear up the infection. They will not help viral pneumonia, however. Finish any medication you’ve been prescribed.
- Cough medicine. Coughing helps loosen fluid and move it out of your lungs so it’s a good idea to not completely eliminate your cough. If your cough is severe and interrupts sleep, cough medicine may help.
- Fever reducers/pain relievers. These include over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin.
- Fluids. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids to loosen mucus in your lungs.
- Rest. Your body needs time to rest so it can recover. Don’t return to your normal activities until your temperature is normal and you’re not coughing.
You may need to be admitted to a hospital for care if your symptoms don’t improve, you have difficulty breathing, your lips or nails turn blue, you become confused or you have underlying health conditions.
Recovering from pneumonia
In some severe cases, pneumonia can result in complications that require an extensive recovery period. Older adults are more likely to experience complications and longer recovery periods. In these situations, home health care can help individuals regain independence and return to the lifestyle they love. Ethos Home Health Care offers skilled nursing, in-home physical, occupational, and speech therapy, chronic illness management, and more.
If you or a loved one is struggling to manage a chronic illness that may increase risk for pneumonia, or are recovering from complications of pneumonia, take our free online assessment to learn if home health care can help. To speak with an expert from the Ethos team about your situation and care options, call (701) 809-9319 or fill out an online form.
Published on November 22nd, 2023
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Date Last Reviewed: September 17, 2020
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD