You have a bad cough, with fever and chills. Are you fighting the flu or something worse? It could be pneumonia, a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Pneumonia affects millions of people each year, and can be life-threatening for older adults, babies and those with chronic diseases like asthma or heart disease. Symptoms include chills, fever, sweating, chest pain, cough, mucus production and headache. Prompt treatment can minimize complications, so see your doctor if you suspect you have more than a cold or the flu.
Prepare and protect
What can you do to prevent pneumonia?
- If you smoke, quit. Tobacco damages your lungs' ability to fight infections and limits healing.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick with cold or the flu.
- Balance regular exercise with getting adequate sleep/rest.
- Set a goal to have five or more servings of fruits/vegetables each day. Vegetables and fruits boost your immune system so get at least three servings per day.
- Ask your health care provider if you should be vaccinated to prevent pneumonia. These vaccines may help:
- Flu vaccine. Sometimes, pneumonia develops after a bout of the flu, so experts recommend getting the flu vaccine to ward off both illnesses. Anyone who wants to reduce the risk of flu can get vaccinated, but children ages 6 months to 18 years, adults older than 50, health care providers and those with chronic health problems should definitely get the vaccine yearly.
- Pneumonia vaccine. It prevents illnesses caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. People ages 65 and older, and younger people who have a condition that lowers the body's ability to fight infection, should get vaccinated. One dose usually does the trick.
- COVID 19 vaccine. Stay tuned for the availability of this locally. Adults should get vaccinated when they are able to do so. Discuss the timing of your vaccine with your primary care physician if you have recently had a confirmed case of COVID 19. The vaccine comes as a two-dose series.
Battle the bug
If you catch bacterial pneumonia, your health care provider will likely try to treat the infection with antibiotics. If the cause is viral, antibiotics won't help, so your health care provider may prescribe antiviral medication. Drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and taking acetaminophen will help you feel better.
Time to call the doctor?
Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
- shortness of breath, shaking chills or persistent fever
- fast or painful breathing
- a cough that brings up bloody mucus
- chest pain that worsens when you cough or inhale
- night sweats
- unexplained weight loss
- significant weakness/malaise associated with the symptoms above
Alicia Mizner, MD, is a hospitalist with Inpatient Physician Associates of Columbus, the adult hospitalist program at Columbus Community Hospital.