Pneumonia can be deceiving. At first, you may think that you're just having a bad cold. Then suddenly, your body temperature rises, you are shaking in chills and coughing up blood-tinged sputum. What started as a mere runny nose turned out to be pneumonia.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, pneumonia is responsible for over 50,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2007. Though younger patients can usually recover from this disease in two weeks after being treated with antibiotics, its threat is more serious to the older population. In fact, even with medications, those who are 50 years old and above and suffering from chronic illnesses are 25 % more likely to die from pneumonia.
If you have pneumonia, your bronchial tubes as well as the tiny air sacs in your lungs called alveoli are inflamed and blocked with thick mucus. This is caused by harmful organisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that broke down your natural barriers, entered your body, and initiated your immune response. If untreated, the pathogens causing your pneumonia can spread to the other parts of your body via your blood stream. For instance, if they reach your brain, you may have meningitis or the inflammation of your brain lining.
The classic manifestations of pneumonia are shaking chills, sudden onset of fever, cough, stabbing chest pains, and difficulty in breathing. If its viral, it starts with a dry cough that progresses quickly to cough that comes with greenish and bloody sputum. Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics such as amoxicillin and erythromycin while viral pneumonia can be managed with neuraminidase inhibitors if it is caused by influenza viruses. Other kinds of viral pneumonia have no specific medication. If you are young and healthy, your doctor may just prescribe your medicine, recommend you have ample rest and lots of fluid intake, and send you home to recuperate. However, if you're 65 or older or a large part of your lungs is affected, you will be required to stay in the hospital for an average of 5 days.
You become more susceptible to pneumonia as you age since your resistance against invading foreign bodies becomes weaker. You are also more likely to develop pneumonia if you have an existing lung disease such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis as well as other health conditions including heart problems, seizure disorders, impaired ability to swallow, cancer, and AIDS.
Alhough you can't stop yourself from aging, there are ways for you to strengthen your body's capability to withstand pneumonia. You can get an annual influenza vaccination. If recommended by your doctor, you can further be immunized against pneumococcal bacteria.
Of course, a healthy lifestyle of balanced diet and exercise is a must. Furthermore, you should take care of your lungs - do not engage in something that might impair its natural ability to ward off infection such as smoking or exposing yourself to chemical-heavy environments.
And most importantly, don't get tricked by pneumonia, if you feel that your cold is out of ordinary and that you've got other symptoms, visit the doctor right away.