When cold and flu season hits, pneumonia isn’t far behind. The same viruses that make you sneeze and raise a fever can also infect your lungs. And doctors say that if you’re fighting a cold or the flu, you’re also more likely to get a bacterial form of pneumonia.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re safe from infection once winter is over. Despite a seasonal rise, this common lung disease can occur at any time of the year. Pneumonia is spread by coughing, sneezing, and touching, or by breathing in germy air. You can also get it by inhaling foreign bodies into the lungs.
Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). But even healthy young adults can end up in hospital or die of severe pneumonia. That said, symptoms to look out for include coughing, difficulty breathing, and fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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“The pneumonias a person can get will differ at different times in their life and with different risk factors,” says Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, New York, and a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Normally, your nose and airways filter out unwanted insects. But when these invaders pass through one or both lungs (often after having had a cold or the flu), or if your immune system is too weak to defend itself against an infectious attack, tiny air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli, s become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.
Different types of pneumonia strike different people. Some tend to happen when people are in the hospital for something else. This is called “nosocomial pneumonia” or “nosocomial pneumonia”. When food, liquids, saliva or vomit enters the lungs, it is called “aspiration pneumonia”. The most common type is community-acquired pneumonia, also called walking pneumonia because it is a milder type of infection.
Pneumonia in adults is usually due to a bacterial infection. Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as pneumococcus) is often responsible. Viruses are more usually the culprit in children. Causes of viral pneumonia include influenza (the flu virus), rhinovirus (the common cold), and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus, which is common in infants and children). Fungi and chemicals can also infect the lungs.
Vaping, which has been linked to deaths nationwide, has also been linked to certain types of pneumonia, including chemical pneumonia and lipoid pneumonia. Chemical pneumonia can develop after inhaling chemicals that cause your lungs to become inflamed, and lipoid pneumonia is caused when lipids (which are basically fatty acids) enter the lungs, causing them to become inflamed. Symptoms of lipoid and chemical pneumonia are similar to those that accompany bacterial pneumonia (which include cough, shortness of breath, fever, shallow breathing, chest pain, and loss of appetite, according to the American Lung Association ).
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Dr. Glatt says the signs and symptoms of pneumonia can also vary: “It’s a constellation of symptoms that the doctor looks at, not a particular finding.” When making a diagnosis, your doctor will consider your physical exam, diagnostic test results, and medical history.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of pneumonia. If you’ve been troubled by any of these issues, go get checked out!