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Recognizing, Treating, and Preventing Pneumonia

Woman with lung infection

Print the full article here!

Pneumonia can be a very serious illness.

Most healthy people who get pneumonia will feel sick, and will recover within a few weeks.

But, for people with health concerns, and for older people, pneumonia can:

  • Be a very serious illness
  • Cause death if it is not treated quickly

Pneumonia is an infection of your lungs.

Your lungs are a very important part of your body.

  • Your lungs help you to breathe.
  • If you have pneumonia, it may be hard for you to breathe in enough air to keep your body working properly.

Pneumonia is a common illness that anyone can develop.

But, some people are more likely than others to develop pneumonia.

You are at a greater risk to develop pneumonia if you:

  • Are an older adult
  • Have another respiratory illness (such as flu or bronchitis)
  • Smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes
  • Live in an area with polluted or smoky air

Pneumonia can spread from person to person.

This means pneumonia is a contagious disease.

For example, you can catch pneumonia from another person if:

  • They sneeze or cough on you
  • You touch something that they have sneezed on and then touch your mouth
  • You share food or drinks with them

Some people with developmental disabilities may be at greater risk of pneumonia.

People with developmental disabilities are more likely to:

  • Live in homes where they may come in contact with others who may have respiratory illnesses
  • Visit a hospital or doctor’s offices more often

These are places where you could catch pneumonia from other people.

You may be able to tell if you are developing pneumonia.

By learning about the symptoms of pneumonia, you may be able to spot it early.

If you think you are developing pneumonia, you should tell a support provider or family member, and call your doctor right away!

Some common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • A cough that produces green or bloody mucus
  • A fever
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest pain that feels worse when you cough or breathe in
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Shaking or getting chills
  • Feeling very tired and weak

Symptoms of pneumonia can be harder to recognize if you are more than 65 years old.

Older adults who get pneumonia often have fewer or milder symptoms, such as:

  • A normal temperature
  • A dry cough with no mucus

They may have different symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly

If you think you have pneumonia, call your doctor!

Tell a doctor, a support provider, or family member as soon as you feel sick.

Call 9-1-1 if you have serious symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling like your chest is being crushed or squeezed
  • Being worried that you will not be able to keep breathing
  • Coughing up large amounts of blood
  • Feeling like you may faint when you sit or stand up

Your doctor will be able to tell if you have pneumonia.

Your doctor will ask you questions about how you are feeling.

He or she may also listen to your breathing with a stethoscope, or take an x-ray of your chest to see if you have pneumonia.

If you have pneumonia, you may have to stay in the hospital.

If your pneumonia is serious, your doctor may ask you to stay in the hospital so he or she can monitor your treatment.

  • You may need to receive medicines through a needle in your arm (called an “IV”).

With proper treatment, pneumonia can clear up in two to three weeks.

But, in older adults and in people with other health concerns, recovery may take six to eight weeks, or longer.

If pneumonia is not treated, it can cause death.

Less serious pneumonia is sometimes called “walking pneumonia.”

This is because your illness is not serious enough for you to stay in bed or at the hospital.

If you have walking pneumonia, you can ask a support provider or family member to support you as you are getting better.

If you have pneumonia, there are things you can do to help yourself feel better.

Drink plenty of fluids.

Get extra rest.

If your chest is hurting, ask a support provider to help you use a heating pad or warm compress.

  • Make sure the heating pad does not get hot enough to burn you.
  • Do not leave it on your body for too long.

If the doctor gives you medicine, take it every day until it is gone.

Even if you start to feel better, you should keep taking your prescription until it is gone.

  • You can ask your support provider to remind you.

Before you use over-the-counter medications (such as a cough suppressant or pain reliever), you should ask your doctor if it is safe.

Good health habits are the most important way to prevent pneumonia.

You should wash your hands often with soap and warm water.

  • It is especially important to wash your hands after you spend time with people who are feeling sick.

Try to eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Make sure to get plenty of rest.

Stick to a regular exercise routine.

There are other things you can do to lower your chances of getting pneumonia.

Try to avoid contact with people who have other respiratory illnesses.

If you smoke, stop smoking.

You can ask your doctor whether you should get a flu shot or the pneumonia vaccine.

It is especially important to get a pneumonia shot or flu shot if you:

  • Are 50 years or older
  • Live in a nursing home or other long term care facility
  • Have chronic heart or lung disease, including asthma
  • Have a chronic illness
  • Have HIV or AIDS

You can check out these resources to learn more about pneumonia!

  • The American Lung Association
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HPPneumonia.pdf 589.45 KB
Last updated on Fri, 06/18/2010 - 10:08