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The Facts About Pneumonia: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

The Facts About Pneumonia: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Pneumonia is an infection that can pose very dangerous risks to seniors. Some milder forms can be treated successfully at home. However, more serious strains of pneumonia require hospitalization and may be fatal for those who are already compromised by chronic disease or immunodeficiency. Here are the important facts about pneumonia.

What is pneumonia?

What is pneumonia? Pneumonia is an infection that affects the air sacs inside the lungs. It can strike one or both lungs and can fill them with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. The symptoms of pneumonia can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, sweating and chills
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cognitive changes in adults older than 65, including fogginess and confusion

What causes pneumonia?

Bacteria, viruses and certain types of fungi can cause pneumonia. There are four different types of pneumonia, categorized by the specific type of germ that causes it. They include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia: This pneumonia is caused by one of three types of bacteria; streptococcus pneumoniae, chlamydophila pneumonia and legionella pneumophila. The people at highest risk of contracting bacterial pneumonia include those with chronic diseases such as kidney or heart disease, and those with weakened immune systems. It can occur after an individual has a cold or the flu.
  • Viral pneumonia: This is a less serious pneumonia and can run for a shorter length of time than bacterial pneumonia. It can be caused by the viruses that cause colds and the flu.
  • Mycoplasma (walking) pneumonia: This pneumonia is highly contagious and spreads quickly. Commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia, it can spread through shared living environments like nursing homes and college dormitories. If people with this type of pneumonia sneeze, the droplets in the air carry the pneumonia and can easily infect others.
  • Fungal pneumonia: This specific type of pneumonia is caused by fungus in the soil or in bird droppings. It is contracted by those who work closely with the soil or birds and inhale large amounts of fungus.

Pneumonia is also categorized by the environments in which it is contracted. The most common are:

  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia: Pneumonia can be contracted during a hospital stay and can be especially resistant to antibiotics. It poses risk to those who may already be ill and compromised.
  • Healthcare-acquired pneumonia: This pneumonia can be contracted by those who receive long-term care in healthcare facilities, including skilled nursing, long-term care and outpatient clinics.
  • Community-acquired pneumonia: This type of pneumonia is contracted in community settings, outside of healthcare facilities.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Pneumonia is diagnosed by a physical exam that may be accompanied by several different types of tests. First, a physician will listen to the individual’s lungs to determine if they are congested and possibly filled with fluid. Then a chest x-ray may be ordered to view the lungs and any congestion or fluid. Blood tests may also be ordered to determine if there is an infection. Pulse oximetry tests measure the level of oxygen in the blood. They can help to diagnose pneumonia because the infection reduces blood oxygen levels. Some physicians may also order lab tests that analyze sputum from the lungs (spit up by the patient). This can determine what type of infection is causing the pneumonia.

How is pneumonia treated?

Fortunately there are several different treatments for pneumonia. The physician will determine the best treatment depending upon the age of the person with the infection, the status of their underlying health and the severity of the pneumonia. In general, mild cases of pneumonia, once diagnosed, can be treated at home. The more severe the illness is, the more apt it is to require hospitalization.

Treatments for pneumonia can include:

  • Antibiotics: These drugs can treat bacterial pneumonia but not viral pneumonia. Once tests determine the exact type of bacteria causing the infection, the physician will try to match the antibiotic to it.
  • Cough medicine: Pneumonia may cause some people to have a cough, which can increase pain and discomfort in the lungs. Cough medicine can help to treat the cough, allowing the person to get sleep. Discuss with your loved one’s physician which cough medicine is best and safest. Always discuss possible contraindication with other medications your loved one is taking.
  • Pain relievers and fever reducers: Pneumonia can cause generalized aches and pains. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers can help to relieve them. Check with your loved one’s doctor to make sure they are appropriate before using.

Preventing pneumonia

The best way to prevent pneumonia is to get vaccinated. Seniors with chronic disease or compromised immune systems should receive the pneumococcal vaccine every year.

The other effective strategy to prevent pneumonia is to remain healthy in general and avoid contracting germs that may include pneumonia bacteria and viruses. It will help to:

  • Practice good hand washing: The Centers for Disease Control says that hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of disease and illness. Encourage your senior loved one to wash his or hands frequently with hand sanitizer or soap and water when out in public and when returning home.
  • Quit smoking: If your loved one smokes, encourage him or her to stop smoking. It weakens the lungs and makes them more susceptible to infection.
  • Maintain good health: The healthier and stronger that seniors remain the more their bodies can fight off infection. Eating healthy foods, exercising and sleeping at least 7 hours a night is the best way to avoid illness.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

 

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.