What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a type of lung infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs of one or both lungs. This inflammation results in the air sacs filling up with pus or fluid.
This build up of fluid can make breathing more difficult as the lungs struggle to function effectively. When the lungs aren’t working properly it means the blood is not getting enough oxygen to provide adequate nutrients to the body’s cells.
This is a major problem that can have dire consequences for seniors if not treated.
What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
The symptoms of pneumonia can vary considerably from case to case, making it a tough one to recognize right away.
The symptoms of pneumonia may depend on age, overall health, and root cause of the illness.
Seniors concerned about the possibility of pneumonia should watch for:
- Chest pain
- Phlegm-producing cough
- Fever or chills
- Low body temp
- Loss of breath
- Vomiting or diarrhea
What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia is most commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection in the lungs.
A bacterial infection is a common cause of pneumonia in seniors. The most common type of bacteria resulting in pneumonia is called Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can affect just one lobe or the lungs in general.
This type of pneumonia can develop during or after a cold or flu.
Viral pneumonia can also develop in the wake of a cold or flu and is typically a milder version of the disease.
Fungal pneumonia is more prevalent in seniors with chronic illness or compromised immune systems.
Why is pneumonia more common and threatening for seniors?
Seniors are more likely to contract pneumonia and are also at a greater risk for experiencing lingering complications or even death as a result.
Cases of pneumonia range from mild to severe, often pushing towards the more serious end of the spectrum for seniors.
Some reasons seniors are more susceptible to pneumonia, may include:
- Weakened immune system
- Reduced strength
- Culmination of health issues
Weakened Immune System
As we get older, the strength of our immune system begins to decline. A healthy immune system is essential for fighting off infection and protecting the body from illness and disease.
Just like most things to do with the body, the immune system’s effectiveness decreases with age. Seniors produce fewer immune cells and the immune cells that do exist don’t communicate with each other as effectively as they once did.
Seniors also produce fewer T cells, which are responsible for defending the body from invading cells.
Frailty is another risk factor for seniors when it comes to pneumonia prevention. The inability to produce a strong cough means that infections are not as easily cleared from the lungs.
Coughing is one of the body’s natural defenses for removing infectious substances from the lungs.
Culminating Health Conditions
There are all kinds of health conditions that can increase the risk of pneumonia. A lot of seniors tend to have multiple existing health issues at any given time.
Seniors that are battling chronic illness have a weaker defense against potential infection.
Some health conditions that put seniors at greater risk for pneumonia, are:
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Any stay in a hospital intensive care unit can increase the risk of pneumonia, especially if on a respiratory ventilator. Patients may also be exposed to potential bacteria and viruses.
Reducing the Risk of Pneumonia for Seniors
There are several ways seniors can attempt to decrease the risk of contracting pneumonia.
Some steps to take that can help prevent pneumonia are:
- Good hygiene
- Clean home environment
- Avoid high-risk environments
Most seniors should already be getting an annual flu shot before the start of cold and flu season. This is a good preventative measure for pneumonia, as it often follows a bout with the flu.
Pneumococcal vaccinations are also available for protection against the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia.
Keeping your hands clean from germs and bacteria can help protect the body against infection.
Keeping the home mold and dust free is a good way to help prevent respiratory infection and disease.
One recommendation is to avoid other people that may be sick, if possible. If entering a high-risk environment like a hospital or clinic, then a medical face mask can be worn for protection.
The best way to boost the immune system and prevent disease is through a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and quality sleep.