What is pneumonia?
Sadly we have lost too many older people to Covid-19 over the last year, but another serious danger is pneumonia which has almost been forgotten since the pandemic.
Pneumonia is an infection that causes the tiny air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed and
filled with fluid and pus.
That causes coughing with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. The cause of the infection could be something as innocent as breathing in an airborne droplet with a microscopic bacteria or virus in it.
Or it could be a tiny piece of food that went down the wrong pipe into the lungs and breeds bacteria.
Some types of pneumonia are contagious and are passed via coughing and sneezing. Other types of pneumonia are not contagious, like aspiration pneumonia which is caused by accidentally swallowing food or water into the lungs.
Who is at risk for pneumonia?
There are a handful of factors that increase a person’s risk for developing pneumonia. These include:
- Age – people over age 65 and children under the age of 2 are more susceptible.
- Smoking – smoking damages the lungs and makes smokers more vulnerable.
- Certain medical conditions – adults with suppressed immune systems or chronic illnesses like Heart disease, COPD, and diabetes are at higher risk.
- Hospitalisation – breathing assistance (like in the intensive care unit in a hospital) can increase lung exposure to bacteria or virus.
- Difficulty swallowing – older adults who experience trouble swallowing due to neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, stroke, and dementia are at increased risk of aspiration pneumonia.
Pneumonia can present itself in a variety of ways. In mild cases, it may even seem like a long case of the flu.
Common pneumonia symptoms include:
There are a handful of factors that increase a person’s risk for developing pneumonia.
- Cough (sometimes with phlegm or pus)
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing.
- Fever, sweating, and chills.
- Shortness of breath Wheezing, lung crackling sounds (heard with a stethoscope)
- Lowered levels of oxygen in the blood
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
Pneumonia in older people may also cause confusion, increased falls, and difficulty with normal functioning.