How to Prevent Pneumonia

The lung infection, while treatable, is a leading cause of death in Kentucky for those over age 65, and globally among children under five.

Late summer seems to be an odd time for pneumonia to surface – as it is often associated with winter weather – but it has no season, said Jesse Jenkins, MD, a Baptist Health Medical Group family medicine physician with an office in Springhurst.

You can get pneumonia at any time of the year. Pneumonia is often caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, but viruses like the flu, and even fungi (prevalent in the Ohio Valley) also cause the disease.

Dr. Jenkins

It may look like a cold, but….

With pneumonia, the lung’s air sacs (which take in oxygen), swell and fill up with fluid. This makes breathing difficult and painful, plus limits the amount of oxygen the person can take in with each breath. It also causes fever, chills, and coughing.

Because the symptoms closely mirror those of the flu or cold, the diagnosis means a chest X-ray, and an examination to listen to the lungs for “crackling, bubbling and rumbling sounds when you inhale,” according to the American Lung Association.

For bacterial pneumonia, the most common kind, treatment for mild cases can include antibiotics, rest and fluids, and fever control. Steroids may also be prescribed. A 2015 study showed steroid treatment hastened pneumonia patients’ recovery and cut their risk of complications.

And don’t be a martyr. Seek treatment as soon as you become ill. “Getting treatment sooner rather than later can prevent worsening of the disease,” Dr. Jenkins added.  Those with compromised immune systems – or conditions such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease – may be more susceptible to pneumonia. These patients are more likely to require hospitalization for pneumonia.

Get the Shot

The best prevention is to get the pneumonia vaccine. “One of the benefits of getting vaccinated is not only for yourself but for those around you,” said Dr. Jenkins. “It is a lot easier, and more convenient, to prevent illnesses than to treat them.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends two pneumococcal vaccines for adults age 65 and older:

  • A dose of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) first, followed at least one year later by a dose of the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23).
  • If you have already received any doses of PPSV23, the dose of PCV13 should be given at least one year after receipt of the most recent PPSV23 dose.

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