Pneumonia in Elderly: What Are the Risks?
Pneumonia is a respiratory illness that is caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. If left untreated, the fluid can increase and cause the lungs to stop working because they become inflame and the air sacs fill with fluid. Pneumonia can occur in both lungs, one lung, or it can be only in a small area of the lungs.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia causes can range from different bacteria, bacteria-like organisms, fungi and viruses. Medical staff generally defines the cause of pneumonia as not just the type of germ that is creating inflammation and infection in the lungs, but how that germ ended up in the patient's system.
There are four classifications on how a patient could have gotten pneumonia:
- Community spread. This is the most common way people end up with pneumonia. It is when you come into contact with the virus or bacteria outside of a medical facility.
- Hospital spread. This is when you are in the hospital for a different illness and come into contact with a bacteria or virus that causes pneumonia. These cases tend to be more severe.
- Health care spread. This is when a person comes into contact with the germ while in a long-term care facility. It is similar to hospital spread; in the fact these cases also tend to be more severe.
- Aspiration pneumonia. This is a rare form. It can occur when food, drink or bodily fluids are sucked into the lungs through the windpipe.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Pneumonia symptoms are fairly acute, but they vary depending on the severity of the case. The severity of the case often depends on what kind of germ is causing the pneumonia in the first place. The following is a list of symptoms from the Mayo Clinic (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2020):
- Chest pain when you breathe or cough.
- Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older).
- Cough, which may produce phlegm.
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills.
- Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems).
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Shortness of breath.
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How Is It Treated?
When a doctor suspects that a patient has pneumonia, they will send them for a chest x-ray to confirm there is fluid in the lungs or they may also have additional tests done to try and find out what kind of bacteria or virus is causing the infection. Doing this will help them treat the pneumonia more effectively.
After pneumonia is confirmed, pneumonia treatment will be determined by the severity of the case and the cause. Treatment options can range from recommending over the counter drugs, prescribing antibiotics or even hospitalization. If the lung’s function becomes too low and the person with the pneumonia cannot get enough air, they will be put on a ventilator.
Pneumonia in Elderly Patients
If you are over the age of 65, you are at a much higher risk from pneumonia. Why is that though? As you age, the chances increase of you have an underlying condition that can make you more susceptible. Underlying conditions could be diabetes, a lung condition such as emphysema, heart disease, and the list goes on. Since your chances of having other conditions such as these are higher at an older age, it means that getting pneumonia is a lot more dangerous.
How Can You Avoid It?
You can never completely avoid pneumonia. However, you can certainly take steps to help reduce your chances of coming into contact with pneumonia-causing bacteria and viruses.
First, you should always keep your vaccinations up to date. This means regular checkups with your doctor and visiting the flu clinic for the vaccination every year. You should also encourage your family and friends to do the same because they could be putting you at risk.
Second, wash your hands frequently and properly. You should always wash with antibacterial soap and for at least 20 seconds. If you are out of your home, avoid touching your face with your hands and always wash them before eating.
Third, avoid smoking or secondhand smoke. Smoking is a known cause of respiratory illnesses and will put you at a much higher risk of pneumonia. Now, we also know that secondhand smoke will do the same thing, so you should avoid it at all costs.
Fourth, keep your immune system boosted by eating a healthy diet, getting your vitamins and enough sleep at night. By following these directions, you will not only help reduce your chances of coming into contact with pneumonia-causing germs, but you will be able to lead a healthier life.