Are that cough and shortness of breath signs of a mild cold or the flu? Or are they signs of something much more serious, like pneumonia? While most people have heard of pneumonia, not many are aware of the symptoms associated with this potentially dangerous lung infection. Pamela A. Georgeson, DO, an osteopathic allergist and immunologist from Chesterfield Township, Michigan, details the signs and symptoms of pneumonia so you can stay a step ahead of the illness this winter season.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner with you to help you get healthy and stay well. They also encourage your body’s natural tendency toward self-healing.

Danger Signs of Pneumonia

“Pneumonia is a lung infection marked by inflammation of the air sacs in one or both lungs,” says Dr. Georgeson. It often develops after a viral infection, like the flu, so people regularly confuse its symptoms with those of the flu or common cold.

People regularly confuse signs of pneumonia with those of the flu or common cold.

So, what are the specific symptoms of pneumonia to watch for? “Once the lungs are infected or become inflamed, sufferers may experience cough with phlegm, fever, chills, chest pain, nausea and vomiting, or difficulty breathing,” Dr. Georgeson says. She advises sufferers to visit their local emergency room if these symptoms persist or if they develop more severe symptoms such as:

  • Blood in phlegm
  • Bluish-toned skin
  • Labored and heavy breathing
  • Mental confusion or reduced mental function (in the elderly)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chest pain, especially when coughing or taking deep breaths

“The severity of symptoms varies among children, adults and the elderly,” notes Dr. Georgeson. “Newborns may not show any signs, or they may vomit, have a fever, and have difficulty breathing or eating. Older people, meanwhile, may have sudden changes in mental awareness and experience lower body temperature and energy levels,” she continues. For infants and adults alike, Dr. Georgeson says it is imperative they receive medical attention at the first sign of symptoms and see their physician for follow-up if symptoms linger or worsen.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When diagnosing pneumonia, your physician will ask about symptoms, complete a physical examination and may request a chest X-ray or blood test. “For most people, pneumonia will begin to improve within a few days with the aid of antibiotics, cough medicine, and rest; however, for older adults, infants, and people with other chronic illnesses who have become extremely ill, hospital treatment is usually required,” explains Dr. Georgeson.

Stopping the Spread of Pneumonia

“Pneumonia is an extremely contagious illness which spreads through respiratory droplets transmitted through sneezes, coughs, and exhales,” explains Dr. Georgeson. That is why it is especially important for at-risk people to safeguard themselves before they become infected.

“If you are 65 or older, smoke, or have a heart or lung problem, you should get a pneumococcal vaccine and a flu shot,” recommends Dr. Georgeson. “While it may not prevent you from getting pneumonia, it will reduce the severity of symptoms if you get sick.”

Winter Wellness Tips

There are a few general tips that you can implement into your daily routine to avoid getting sick this season. According to Dr. Georgeson, the best way to prevent and stop the spread of viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia and other illnesses is to take good care of yourself and be mindful of spreading germs.

“If you’re healthy, stay away from people who have the flu, colds, measles, or chickenpox, since your chances of developing pneumonia increase after getting one of these illnesses. If you’re sick, wash your hands with soap and water often, always cover your mouth and nose when sneezing, drink lots of fluids, get plenty of rest, and most important, stay home if you’re sick,” Dr. Georgeson advises.

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