Guard against pneumonia

Aspirus resident shares expert advice for staying healthy

Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can affect anyone, from babies to the elderly, and it can be very dangerous. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), more than a million people are hospitalized, and more than 50,000 lives are claimed by pneumonia each year.

Pneumonia, as described by Dr. Samuel Staehling, Aspirus Wausau Family Medicine resident, is an infection of the lung tissue, specifically impacting the delicate structures involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This infection is primarily caused by pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi, which are commonly spread through the inhalation of these microorganisms.

Staehling highlights the populations most vulnerable to pneumonia.

“The biggest risk for contracting pneumonia is posed to older adults, very young children, hospitalized patients, immunocompromised individuals and those with chronic comorbidities, like lung disease, heart disease or diabetes,” he said.

Staehling underscores the link between viral upper respiratory infections and the development of pneumonia. He explains how these infections can weaken the immune system, particularly in the lungs, making individuals more susceptible to pneumonia.

However, there are proactive steps that everyone can take to reduce their risk.

“The most fundamental preventive measure for everyone is good hygiene, emphasizing proper hand washing and the use of alcohol-based sanitizers,” he said.

Vaccination has also proven to be a powerful tool in the fight against pneumonia. Staehling notes that there are pneumonia vaccines available, which are commonly administered to children and older adults. These vaccines play a vital role in preventing pneumonia, especially in high-risk groups.

Staehling also recommends maintaining a strong immune system through healthy habits to bolster one’s defenses against the condition. Getting sufficient sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity can all contribute to a robust immune response.

Sometimes getting sick is inevitable, though. Recognizing signs of pneumonia is essential for early diagnosis and treatment. Staehling outlines common symptoms:

• A productive cough (producing phlegm), which distinguishes it from a dry viral cough.
• Chest pain, particularly when breathing or coughing.
• Elevated fever, chills and sweats, more severe than typical respiratory infections.
• Shortness of breath, which may necessitate oxygen therapy.

“If breathing becomes extremely difficult, requiring additional oxygen support, it’s a clear indication to seek medical attention,” Staehling said. “Likewise, persistent high fever, the presence of productive green phlegm or pus in your cough should prompt a visit to a health care professional.”

It’s important to know that pneumonia can be serious, but there are ways to protect yourself and get treatment if you need it. Talk to your primary care provider to learn more about your individual risk factors and recommended preventative measures.