4 Things You Need to Know About Pneumonia

If you’ve been stuck in bed with flu-like symptoms and a wet cough that produces mucus and doesn’t respond to cold and sinus medicines, you may have pneumonia.

A lung infection that triggers inflammation in one or both of your lungs, pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but viral infections can cause it, too.

“There are several different bacteria that can cause pneumonia,” says UNC Health family medicine physician Dana Neutze, MD, PhD. “But streptococcus pneumonia (strep pneumonia) is one of the most common types of bacteria that causes it.”

Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, cough that produces green, yellow or bloody mucus, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Here are four things you need to know about pneumonia.

1. Your risk of getting pneumonia depends on your age.

Anyone can get pneumonia, but the risk is higher in children ages 18 and younger and adults older than 65 because both populations have compromised immune systems. Kids’ immune systems have not fully developed. And because our immune systems weaken with age, seniors have a harder time fighting off infections like pneumonia.

If you suffer from a chronic condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you are also at an increased risk of getting pneumonia.

2. At-risk groups should get vaccinated.

Each year in the United States, more than 250,000 people are hospitalized because of pneumonia, and while pneumonia generally responds well to treatment, about 50,000 people die from the disease. The pneumonia vaccine can reduce your risk of getting pneumonia and lessen its severity if you do get it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the pneumonia vaccination for all children younger than 2, all adults 65 and older, and anyone with a chronic condition. In addition, immunosuppressed patients such as those with leukemia or HIV should be immunized. Ask your or your child’s health care provider about what is best for your situation.

There are two types of pneumonia vaccines: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23).

“Pneumovax is the vaccine that we typically give to older individuals or those with a chronic condition,” Dr. Neutze says. “So those with chronic conditions would get it once between the ages of 18 and 65 and again after 65.”

Prevnar is given as a three- or four-dose series of shots, beginning when babies are 2 months old. The final dose is given by 15 months.

3. Good hygiene can help prevent pneumonia.

To help prevent pneumonia, try to stay away from anyone who is sick. If you are sick, rest, stay home and avoid contact with others.

Here are some other pneumonia prevention tips:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Wash your hands often in warm, soapy water.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

If you have a cold and are concerned that it might move to your lungs and turn into pneumonia, talk to your health care provider about steps you can take to help prevent that from happening.

4. Treatment for pneumonia depends on its cause.

Treatment can range from rest and antibiotics to time in the hospital if you need oxygen to help you breathe. Your health care provider will determine the best course of action based on your age, overall health, and the type and severity of pneumonia.

No matter the treatment, it may be a few weeks before you feel back to normal.

Be patient with your recovery and take it easy returning to regular activities, Dr. Neutze says. “Pneumonia can be a hard hit on the body, particularly if you end up getting hospitalized.”

If you think you might have pneumonia or want to get a pneumonia vaccine, talk to your doctor. If you need a doctor, find one near you.