Senior Health

Pneumonia

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or chemical irritants. The inflammation, caused by infection, makes it difficult for oxygen to reach your blood.

The most common types of pneumonia include:

  • Viral pneumonia. This type is caused by various viruses, including influenza, and is responsible for one-third of all pneumonia cases. Viral pneumonias may make a person susceptible to bacterial pneumonia.
  • Bacterial pneumonia. This type is caused by various bacteria, the most common of which is streptococcus pneumoniae. It usually occurs when the body is weakened in some way, such as by illness, malnutrition, old age or impaired immunity, and the bacteria are able to work their way into the lungs.

What are the symptoms?

  • Shaking, chills
  • Low energy, fatigue and loss of appetite
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that worsens with deep breathing or cough
  • High temperature
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Bluish color to lips and nailbeds
  • Confused mental state or delirium
  • Cough that produces greenish, yellow or bloody mucus

What treatment options are available?

Treatment for bacterial pneumonia may include antibiotics. There is no clearly effective treatment for viral pneumonia, which usually heals on its own. Other treatment may include appropriate diet, increased fluids, oxygen therapy, pain medication and medication for cough.

The best treatment, however, is prevention. Experts recommend the pneumococcal vaccine for people at high risk for serious problems if they get pneumonia, and for everyone 65 or older without serious problems. High-risk adults include those with chronic conditions like asthma, alcoholism, COPD and diabetes — all of which affect the immune system; residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities; and people who smoke cigarettes.