Pneumonia can affect anyone, but can be prevented

Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner Patrick Almeter, physician assistant, left, and Frederica Whiteside, radiology technician, explain an X-ray of a patient with pneumonia. Both work at University Medical Associates of Aiken, where this photo was taken.

Pneumonia is a condition anyone can get but can be prevented, according to the American Lung Association.

This lung infection can happen from more than 30 different causes, with bacteria, viruses, mycoplasma, infectious agents like fungi and chemicals being the main ones, and can circulate by coughing, sneezing and breathing.

“If your immune system is weakened by an illness, then pneumonia is going to find a way to invade into your body somehow and infect it,” said Patrick Almeter, a physician assistant with University Medical Associates of Aiken. “Even if you get the flu, most people don’t die from the flu. What they end up dying of, a lot of times, is the pneumonia that follows because they have a weakened immune system.”

According to the American Lung Association, pneumonia types that someone can get include the following:

• Bacterial pneumonia: Various bacteria can cause pneumonia, and this type can happen by itself or after a person’s had a cold or the flu.

• Viral pneumonia: Some respiratory viruses can cause pneumonia, especially in children; a couple of those viruses includes the influenza virus, of which the infection may be serious and can lead to death, and the adenovirus. Most viral pneumonia cases aren’t very severe and don’t last for a long time.

• Mycoplasma pneumonia: Mycoplasma have traits of bacteria and of viruses and often causes milder incidences of pneumonia, mainly in older children and young adults.

• Tuberculosis pneumonia: This type is caused by the airborne bacterial infection of tuberculosis and can be very dangerous if it’s not caught early.

• Pneumocystis jiroveci pneumonia: This form is caused by a fungus and comes up in people with immune systems not properly working.

What symptoms a person displays can be determined by what kind of pneumonia they have, their age and their health, according to the American Lung Association.

“It starts out with just an annoying cough, a lot of times,” Almeter said.

Difficulty with breathing, changes in blood pressure, fever and an overall sick-feeling are other general symptoms Almeter mentioned.

Other signs can include shaking chills, sharp pains in the chest that worsen by deep breathing or coughing, confusion and/or loss of appetite, according to the American Lung Association.

Some people don’t show any signs, the organization further stated.

Those who are ages 2 and younger or 65 and older, who smoke or who have serious illnesses like sickle cell anemia or asthma are more susceptible to the illness, according to Almeter.

The environment you are in can also put you at risk; examples include nursing facilities and hospitals’ intensive care units.

Listening to the lungs is a way to check for the condition. If the doctor hears crackling, bubbling or rumbling sounds when the patient breathes in, that may indicate he or she has the condition, according to the American Lung Association.

Other ways to look for the disease are by chest X-rays and/or pulse oximetry, which looks at how much oxygen is traveling through the bloodstream, according to Almeter.

Ways pneumonia can be treated include antibiotics, breathing treatments and/or steroids, he further stated.

Rest and drinking enough liquids are other methods.

Getting vaccinated, staying healthy and keeping your immune system strong can help prevent a person from getting pneumonia, Almeter said.

The annual influenza shot is recommended, since the flu can lead to pneumonia, and those younger than 5 or 65 and older are advised to get the vaccine against pneumococcal pneumonia, a common bacterial pneumonia.

If you or someone you know think he or she has pneumonia or is at risk, consult with a physician.

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Stephanie Turner graduated from Valdosta State University in 2012. She then signed on with the Aiken Standard, where she is now the features reporter. She primarily covers health topics, arts and entertainment, authors and restaurants.