Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that mainly affects young children, the elderly, smokers and those suffering from certain chronic diseases. This pathology can have serious consequences. However, there are some measures that can be taken to prevent their occurrence.
Pneumonia occurs when a infectious germusually a virus or bacteria, invades the lung tissue: its prevention is vital to avoid bigger problems.
“The lungs are made up of small sacs, called alveoli, which (in healthy people) fill with air when they breathe. The alveoli of pneumonia patients are full of pus and liquid, which makes breathing painful and limits the absorption of oxygen”, explains the World Health Organization (WHO).
In general, pneumonia it is caused by viruses or bacteriaalthough also the fungi can trigger this disease.
“The most common mechanism is the aspiration of microorganisms from the upper respiratory tract. The body’s defenses can be weakened by certain circumstances such as tobacco use, chronic lung diseases, alcoholism, malnutrition, etc. and thus make it easier for these germs to reach the lungs and cause infections”, say the specialists of the Clinic University of Navarra.
Currently, among the main causes of pneumonia are pneumococcal infections, the flu virus and the coronavirus, according to data from the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR).
Know its symptoms
The specialists of the Clínica University of Navarra emphasize that the symptoms of pneumonia are variable, without this always being related to the type of germ that caused it. The most common are:
- Cough with purulent or rusty sputum, sometimes with blood.
- Chest pain.
- Fever with chills.
“Other pneumonias, called atypical, produce more gradual symptoms with tenths of a fever, general malaise, muscle and joint pains, fatigue and headache. The cough is dry, without sputum, and the chest pain is less intense. Some patients may have mild digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea”, they point out.
“If the pneumonia is extensive or there is a previous lung or heart disease, breathing difficulty may appear. In addition, if the germs pass into the bloodstream, they produce bacteremia that can lead to septic shock”, they explain.
In the case of elderly people
Likewise, they point out that, in elderly people, the initial symptoms they can be less flashy:
- Low or absent fever.
- Short cough
- Alteration of behavior.
The pneumonia it mainly affects people who are in the extremes of lifethat is to say, at children under 5 and adults over 60, although it can be given at any age. It is also more common in people with chronic conditions that involve immunosuppression (weakness of the immune system) such as autoimmune diseases, oncological processes with chemotherapy or having received an organ transplant, among others.
Pneumonia is also more common among those affected by otherschronic diseases, even if they do not involve immunosuppression, such as heart, respiratory, liver and kidney pathologies. Bad health habits like smoking also pose a higher risk of pneumonia.
The experts at the Clínic de Barcelona hospital explain that there are several risk factors that are associated with the mortality to pneumonia such as:
- Bacteremia or the presence of microorganisms in the blood.
- The need for admission to an intensive care unit.
- Chronic diseases.
- Pneumonia caused by a bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Preventing pneumonia: what the experts say
For the prevention of pneumonia and its consequences, they can be adopted various measures.
One is to get vaccinated against them main germs that cause the disease:
The pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) it’s a bacteria of which there are some 98 different types.
There are two vaccines against it:
- The 13-valent vaccine protects against 13 of these types
- The 23-valent vaccine, against 23.
Experts at the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute say pneumococcal vaccines are especially important for people at high risk of pneumonia, such as adults 65 and older, children 2 years of age and younger of this age, people with chronic diseases or with a weak immune system.
This may include patients with cancer, HIV, asthma, sickle cell disease or damage to the spleen. Also, this organization recommends vaccination against pneumococcus to smokers.
The flu virus
With regard to the flu vaccine, the specialists at the Hospital Clínic remind that it should be administered to people who present a greater risk of complications if they get sick with the flu, that is to say, the elderly, patients with diseases chronic and pregnant women, as well as health personnel.
Regarding SARS-CoV2, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that effective and safe vaccines are available that provide good protection against severe symptoms, hospitalization and death from covid-19.
Another outstanding measure for the prevention of pneumonia is stop smoking.
Specialists at the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona emphasize that smoking multiplies the risk of pneumonia by 4. Conversely, “quitting the smoking habit cuts the risk of pneumonia in half in the following 5 years”, they point out.
Consume less alcohol
It is also important reduce alcohol consumption.
“Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a higher risk of more severe pneumonia, as it affects essential components of the immune system. Added to this is the fact that alcoholic people often develop liver damage and malnutrition, which increases the risk of pneumonia”, they state.
In this regard, the Hospital Clínic emphasizes that malnutrition not only increases the risk of suffering from pneumonia, but also increases the risk of death during the course of pneumonia.
For this reason, they express that ensuring “adequate nutritional status is very important to prevent infections such as pneumonia”.
Maintain good oral hygiene
Another of his recommendations is to keep one adequate oral hygiene.
According to them, poor oral hygiene contributes to the plaque formation and the colonization of the mouth by microorganisms which can reach the lungs when microaspirations occur.
Maintain good hand hygiene
Likewise, the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute he advises wash your hands with soap and water or with disinfectant alcohol-based hand rub to kill germs.
Avoid contact with children with respiratory infection
Finally, the Hospital Clínic specialists recommend avoid contact with children who are sick, especially with those who have a respiratory infection. This measure is mainly aimed at unvaccinated elderly people who suffer from a chronic disease that makes them more vulnerable to infections.