Pneumonia: the facts

Seasons are-a-changing, which means the bugs will be rife again soon. Unless your immunity is strong, and you’re up-to-date with all your vaccines, you are at risk of developing serious infections like pneumonia – which is a lot more common than most people realise!

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of either one, or both, lungs – the tiny air sacs called alveoli become inflamed.

What causes pneumonia?

It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or bacteria-like organisms. Pneumonia can also be caused when either chemicals, food, drink, vomit or saliva enter the lungs – more commonly seen in patients who have an impaired gag reflex

Where you become infected makes a difference

  1. Community-acquired pneumonia – pneumonia that’s acquired outside of a hospital, or a health care facility (such as nursing home, rehabilitation or frail care centre) is usually easier to treat.
  2. Hospital-acquired pneumonia – pneumonia that’s acquired while being in hospital, in ICU or on a ventilator. This type of pneumonia can be more resistant to antibiotics.

Who’s at risk?

  • children under the age of 2 years, and adults older than 65 years of age
  • smokers
  • people who are immune-suppressed (HIV+, cancer patients, patients taking long-term steroids)
  • people with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, among others
  • being hospitalised, recent surgery or trauma
  • having had a recent viral respiratory infection (increase the risk of a secondary bacterial infection)
  • neurological impairment (Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, motor-neuron disease, M.S.)
  • living in a nursing home or frail-care facility, or a hostel

Treating pneumonia

How pneumonia is treated depends on the age of the patient, the type of pneumonia, underlying causes, how seriously ill the patient is, and whether the patient has other chronic diseases. Treatment can include:

  • Rest and adequate fluid intake
  • Antibiotics or anti-viral medication, if needed
  • Medication to lower a fever/temperature (paracetamol, anti-inflammatories)
  • Cough medication (a cough suppressant should only be given if a doctor specifically prescribes one)
  • Hospitalisation (if a patient is seriously ill, intravenous fluids and anti-biotics may be necessary, oxygen, nebulisation, chest physiotherapy, special breathing exercises, or ICU admission for possible ventilation)
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