Office Visit: Reduce Your Pneumonia Risk

Office Visit: Reduce Your Pneumonia Risk

Lee esto en EspañolBy Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.

One of the most common causes of hospitalization in the U.S. is pneumonia. Between cold and flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are at an increased risk for developing pneumonia this winter. Fortunately, you can breathe easier knowing there are steps you can take to help keep yourself safe.

Pneumonia is an infection most often caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, which causes inflammation of the lungs and makes breathing difficult. In the U.S., the biggest pneumonia culprits are viral infections like the flu, RSV, and COVID-19, as well as bacteria called streptococcus pneumoniae. Anyone can get pneumonia, but young children, older adults, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems and chronic lung disease are most susceptible.

Symptoms include chest pain, a productive cough, and shortness of breath. It’s important to see a doctor right away if your symptoms are severe, especially if you’re having trouble breathing, have a persistent fever, or if you're coughing up colored sputum. Pneumonia is frequently diagnosed using a chest X-ray and may be treated at home with medicines, like antibiotics. It can be fatal, with severe cases placing stress on the heart and raising the risk for a heart attack or stroke even after the patient has recovered. Hospitalization may be necessary for those with more serious cases.

Your best line of defense against pneumonia is prevention. Follow good hygiene practices by thoroughly washing your hands often, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and avoiding those who are sick. One of the best things you can do for your overall health is to quit smoking, as smoking damages healthy lung tissue.

Vaccines are widely available for viruses that commonly cause pneumonia, including COVID-19, the flu, whooping cough, and measles. There is also a pneumonia vaccine available that gives additional protection to those at a higher risk. As always, speak with your doctor about whether the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.

Dr. Joseph R. CunninghamJoseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.

(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.) leaving site icon