If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
With news of pneumonia thrust into the spotlight, we spoke with Dr. Matthew Schreiber, a pulmonary disease and critical care specialist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, about what we need to know about the common, but highly treatable illness. This condition should always be taken seriously and receive prompt treatment, Dr. Schreiber says. But its symptoms can range from comparatively mild (allowing “walking pneumonia”) to urgent, requiring immediate hospitalization.
Who is most at risk?
“Pneumonia can happen to anybody,” Dr. Schreiber says. Those most at risk are young children, the elderly and persons with compromised lung functions from pre-existing conditions, such as cystic fibrosis.
“The vast majority of people do very well” with proper treatment, Dr. Schreiber says. The key is to seek treatment promptly.
What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria or a virus. Bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. The viral version of the disease has fewer treatment options and antibiotics are ineffective. The patient’s doctor will decide the needed amounts of rest, medication and other treatments.
“Everyone responds differently,” Dr. Schreiber says. Factors include the patient’s overall physical health, and particularly the condition of the lungs.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can include coughing, fever (which may be mild), chills and shortness of breath. Chest x-rays and CT scans can help diagnose pneumonia.
Dr. Schreiber says the best way to avoid pneumonia is to stay healthy and active, eat well, and wash your hands thoroughly after being in contact with someone who is sick or coughing. He urges people to be aware of their surroundings, and make sure their care providers know their medical history.
Do I need a vaccine?
People 65 and older should should receive two vaccine series (PCV13 followed by PPSV23) for one of the most common types of bacterial pneumonia (pneumococcal pneumonia). Also, since influenza can lead to pneumonia, flu vaccines should be given to persons over 50, those especially susceptible to flu, and health care workers.
While nearly a million Americans over age 65 contract pneumonia each year, many studies show the average age of having pneumonia is much younger, Dr. Schreiber says. It’s the second most common reason for U.S. hospital admissions (childbirth is #1), placing a significant burden on the nation’s health care system and its costs.
Have any questions?
We are here to help! If you are concerned you might have pneumonia, or to schedule a consultation, call us at 202-877-3627.