When you hear “pneumonia,” what comes to mind? Cold weather, flu season and violent coughing? Maybe this year, the coronavirus? To better understand the causes, symptoms and treatments associated with pneumonia, we invited Greg Golden, DO, a pulmonologist at Banner Health in Colorado, to share his insight and offer tips to lower your risk.
What is pneumonia and how is it caused?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages. Dr. Golden listed fever, cough and shortness of breath as early signs that you may have pneumonia. Among the most common causes of pneumonia is influenza. However, other viruses, bacteria and fungi can all cause pneumonia to appear.
“The most common type of pneumonia is ’community-acquired,’” said Dr. Golden. “This means an individual could have picked it up from basically anywhere. They could have contracted it from a stranger’s stray cough or sneeze, sharing cups or not washing their hands after touching an infected surface. The second type of pneumonia is ‘healthcare-associated’ pneumonia, which can be contracted from nursing homes, hospitals, jails, etc.” Dr. Golden continued to explain that each infection tends to react differently to treatments.
Symptoms of pneumonia
Symptoms for pneumonia can range greatly and may change as your infection progresses. Some common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing with phlegm that originates in the lungs
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Chest pain
- Bluish color to lips and nail bed
- Confusion or delirium
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Myths and facts
There are a lot of myths regarding how pneumonia is contracted. We asked Dr. Golden to verify and/or dispel some of the most common beliefs.
Is pneumonia triggered by cold?
“Pneumonia is not caused by exposure to cold,” said Dr. Golden. “However, cold weather tends to occur during cold and flu season. This is a time of the year when there are increased rates of infections from both viral and bacterial pneumonia, but the infection itself is not from cold weather.”
Can you get pneumonia by inhaling water as you swim?
Dr. Golden explained that “in general, you cannot get pneumonia from swallowing water. You could inhale dirty water that has bacteria in it which could cause an infection. Water itself is very inflammatory and you can develop lung inflammation which can feel very much like pneumonia.”
Can you get pneumonia from having wet hair on a cold day?
“This is an old wives’ tale,” said Dr. Golden. You must be exposed to a virus, bacteria or fungi to contract pneumonia. Don’t worry, you can shower before bed, even in the winter.
Is pneumonia contagious?
Dr. Golden explained that “it depends on the type of pneumonia. Certain types, such as those associated with COVID-19 and influenza are very contagious. Other organisms can spread from person to person but are generally harder to spread.” However, in general, pneumonias of all types are most contagious early in course, or often before you even develop symptoms.
How to lower your risk for and treat pneumonia
Dr. Golden recommended three mainstays to avoid pneumonia:
- Wash your hands.
- Stay healthy with a balanced diet and exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep.
If you are age 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system, you should also get a pneumococcal vaccination.
If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, your treatment will differ based on what is causing your infection. Dr. Golden said, “Bacterial pneumonias generally improve with antibiotics. While some cases can be more severe, most viral pneumonias must “run their course.” There are some anti-viral medications that can be taken for pneumonia associated with influenza if you catch it early, but cough medications, anti-fever treatments and drinking plenty of fluids are common steps for a full recovery. In extreme cases, your pneumonia may require oxygen or hospitalization.”
Think you might have pneumonia? Contact your primary physician to discuss your symptoms or contact Banner Health to set up an appointment and make a plan for a fast recovery.
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