Are shortness of breath and a cough signs of a mild cold or the flu? Or, could they be something much more serious, like pneumonia? Making an accurate determination can be difficult without all the facts.
While most people are familiar with pneumonia, not as many are aware of the symptoms associated with this potentially dangerous lung infection. Eric J. Milie, D.O., director of the internal medicine residency program at Millcreek Community Hospital and a 2004 graduate of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), discusses how understanding the signs and symptoms of pneumonia can help you stay healthy this winter.
Warning Signs of Pneumonia
“Pneumonia is a lung infection marked by inflammation of the air sacs in one or both lungs,” Dr. Milie said. “It often develops after a viral infection, like the flu, so people tend to confuse its symptoms with those of the flu or common cold.”
|Eric Milie, DO, is Director of the internal medicine residency program at Millcreek Community Hospital.|
So, what are some of the specific symptoms of pneumonia to be alert 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. Milie explains. He advises visiting an emergency room if the symptoms persist or if they become more severe, such as:
- Blood in phlegm
- Bluish-toned skin
- Labored and heavy breathing
- Mental confusion or reduced mental function (in the elderly)
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight loss
“The severity of the symptoms tends to vary among children, adults and the elderly,” notes Dr. Milie. “While newborns may not show any signs, or they may vomit, have a fever, and have difficulty breathing or eating, older adults may experience sudden changes in their mental awareness and experience lower body temperature and energy levels.” For both infants and adults alike, Dr. Milie said it is imperative to seek medical attention at the first sign of symptoms, and see their primary health care provider if the symptoms linger or worsen.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When diagnosing pneumonia, your physician will ask about symptoms and conduct a physical examination; they may also suggest a chest x-ray or blood test. “For most people, pneumonia will clear up in two to three weeks with 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 necessary,” Dr. Milie said.
Stopping the Spread of Pneumonia
“Pneumonia is extremely contagious and can be spread through respiratory droplets transmitted by sneezing, coughing, and exhaling,” Dr. Milie said. Consequently, individuals who are at-risk should take extra precautions to protect themselves – before they become infected. “Individuals who are at least 65 years old and smoke, or have a heart or lung problem, should get a pneumococcal vaccine and a flu shot,” Dr. Milie recommends. “While they may not prevent you from getting pneumonia, they will help reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get sick.”
Winter Wellness Tips
Dr. Milie notes that a few changes to one’s daily routine can go a long way in preventing illness this winter season. According to Dr. Milie, taking good care of yourself can help prevent the spread of the viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia and other illnesses. “If you’re healthy, avoiding people with the flu, colds, measles, or chickenpox will decrease your risk,” he said. “If you are sick, proper hand washing is important, along with commonsense things like covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze, drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and most importantly, staying home when you’re sick.”
Preventive medicine is just one aspect of the care that osteopathic physicians provide. DOs are fully licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas, including surgery. DOs are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients. For more information, visit the website for the American Osteopathic Association.
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