Pneumonia is an acute infection that affects the lungs. People of all ages can get infected by pneumonia, but certain groups, like the elderly and children, are at a higher risk of contracting it. Statistics by the WHO (World Health Organization) suggest that more than 160 million children develop pneumonia around the world annually. Twenty million of these children are hospitalized, two million of which die from pneumonia. The same studies also show that pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children under the age of five around the world. Sadly, more than half of these cases come from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Antibiotics and vaccines are easily available in developed countries, and this has helped control pneumonia in children. On the other hand, these vaccines and antibiotics are widely inaccessible in most developing countries, causing many deaths in children and young adults. Here are 5 things you should know about pneumonia that will make living with it a lot easier:
i. Who can get affected?
Pneumonia can attack anyone, but there are those with a higher risk of infection due to a number of factors, including the following:
- Poor diet and nutrition - What you eat on a daily basis can impact your health positively or negatively. Negative impacts include weakening your immune system and exposing you to diseases like pneumonia.
- Tobacco smoking - Pneumonia is a health condition that tobacco smokers can easily contract.
- Diabetes - Chances of developing pneumonia can be higher if you are diabetic.
- Asthma - If you are asthmatic, you are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia.
- Cold - A simple cold can expose you to pneumonia.
- HIV - This weakens your immune system, leaving your body exposed to infections.
- Pollution - Indoor or outdoor pollution can expose you to harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, or chemicals that can infect you with pneumonia.
- Inadequate breastfeeding - Children who are under breastfed for the first six months are prone to pneumonia and other health complications.
- Inadequate zinc intake - Not having enough zinc can also put you at risk of getting pneumonia.
ii. How Pneumonia affects the body
When the infection develops, the lungs become inflamed, filling up with fluid. This interferes with the functionality of the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. In that process, the oxygen entering the bloodstream is minimal, and the body cells that need it become affected. This can eventually lead to death if not given medical attention.
iii. What causes pneumonia?
Bacteria, fungi, or viruses that live in the surrounding environment can find their way into your body through the lungs, nose, or mouth. They then create infections, like pneumonia in the lungs. Viruses and bacteria can easily be transferred through various mechanisms, making it also possible for the infections to move from one person to another. Sometimes it’s not easy to tell who is infected, since the signs and symptoms may not show all the time. This makes it harder to avoid contraction from an individual with pneumonia.
Bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus is the leading cause of pneumonia in developing countries. Another cause that has increased the number of infected is Haemophilus influenzae type b, or Hib. These two are the leading causes, though there are a lot of other contributing factors, like staph infections, influenza, human respiratory syncytial virus, herpes simplex virus, rhinovirus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Other less common types of pneumonia can be contracted through inhalation of toxic liquids, gases, food, and fungi. Another type of pneumonia called Pneumocystis jiroveci (PCP) is caused by fungi, and it specifically affects people with weakened immune systems, like people with HIV/AIDS.
iv. Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia
- Muscle weakness - Pneumonia makes your body muscles weak
- Coughing out green or brown mucus, or even bloody mucus
- Headaches - Frequent headaches can also be a major sign of pneumonia
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea can be a sign of a variety of medical conditions and pneumonia is one of them
- Shortness of breath - When you start losing your breath after simple activities, such as walking a few meters, something you otherwise do easily on a daily basis, can become very difficult
- Rapid breathing - Pneumonia infection can make you breathe at an unusually high rate
- Children under the age of 5 experience chest retraction during respiration
- Infants can also experience feeding problems, unconsciousness, hypothermia, and lethargy
However, there are other, more mild types of pneumonia that don’t show many signs and symptoms and do not interfere with your daily functions. This type of pneumonia is commonly called “walking” pneumonia, and it can sometimes go unnoticed, but that does not make it any less severe, and it should be given medical attention when detected.
v. Pneumonia treatment and prevention measures
There are different treatment options for pneumonia, and the treatment you get highly depends on the type you have, whether it’s bacterial, viral, or fungal. Patients of bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. Those with viral pneumonia are given doses of antiviral medications. However, if the infection is diagnosed early enough, antibiotics can be prescribed to prevent it from developing further.
Normally, after detection and manifestation of symptoms, the doctor will examine the patient. Chest X- rays and blood tests are done on the patients, and other tests may follow to get more details on the patient’s condition. After the prescribed medication, it’s normal for the patient to feel better after a short while. However, more treatment may be required if there is no change and the symptoms persist a few days into the treatment.
Other patients may require admission into the hospital if the symptoms are extreme or if they have been found to have other serious illnesses. This will allow the medical practitioners to closely monitor the patient’s condition. The patient might need other recovery measures, like getting adequate sleep, drinking a lot of fluids, and avoiding tobacco smoking.
They say prevention is better than a cure, and it is indeed. Those who have been unfortunate enough to have suffered from pneumonia can vouch for that. You cannot fool-proof yourself from contracting pneumonia, but there are some preventive measures that can help keep it at bay, including the following:
- Maintaining good hygiene and health standards can help prevent pneumonia
- Pneumonia can easily be transferred from one person to the other, so it’s advisable to avoid close contact or interaction with the infected
- Keeping your hands clean at all times by washing them is helpful. It is better to cough or sneeze into the elbow or sleeve instead of the hands to keep them free from bacteria and viruses
- Proper nutrition and eating habits will make the immune system stronger
- Avoiding tobacco smoking and other forms of indoor and outdoor air pollution
- Enough breastfeeding during the first six months greatly improves your baby’s immune system
- Having access to immunization and vaccines can prevent bacterial and viral infections
With this knowledge in mind, pneumonia cases can be greatly reduced all over the world, and life will be a lot easier for those living with pneumonia. Remember to visit your doctor if symptoms persist.