Pneumonia – the facts behind the common illness
Let’s look closer at what causes pneumonia and how to treat it, so you can reduce your chances of encountering it.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung tissue, normally due to infection.
What causes pneumonia?
Most commonly, pneumonia is caused by the germs we breathe in. Bacterial infections cause the majority of pneumonia cases, but viruses like the flu can also lead to pneumonia. In some rarer cases, pneumonia can result from fungal infections or other infections travelling to the lungs.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
The most common symptoms are:
- difficulty breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- feeling generally unwell
- sweating or shivering
- loss of appetite
- chest pain
Who is most likely to get pneumonia?
Pneumonia affects over 1% of adults each year. It’s most common in the autumn and winter months. While it affects people of all ages, some groups are more vulnerable to infection – for example those with an existing lung condition or a weakened immune system, small babies, the elderly and smokers. It may surprise you to learn that pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in Ireland every year.
How is pneumonia treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat the most common type of pneumonia which is caused by a bacterial infection. After a course of antibiotics, your cough may persist for two or three weeks.
Antibiotics won’t work for pneumonia caused by a viral infection, instead you must rest and look after yourself while your body’s immune system creates antibodies to fight it off. In most cases, pneumonia can be treated at home with plenty of rest and fluids. More severe symptoms however, such as coughing up blood or vomiting may mean that an individual needs hospital treatment.
How to reduce your chances of getting pneumonia
Good hygiene can prevent the spread of germs and reduce your chances of getting pneumonia. Wash your hands regularly and avoid contact with sick people and contaminated objects and surfaces.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly builds up your immune system, further reducing your chances of getting pneumonia. Smoking can damage your lungs and increase your chances of getting pneumonia, another good reason to consider quitting.
If you’re concerned you might have pneumonia talk to your GP. They’ll be able to determine the cause and best treatment.
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