What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lower respiratory tract infection leading to inflammation of the lungs. It is a serious illness that can affect people of any age, but it is most common and most dangerous in very young children, people older than 65, and people with underlying medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or chronic lung disease.
What are the different types of pneumonia?
Due to the broad definition of pneumonia, there are a number of different types that exist. For simplicity sake, this article will focus on community-acquired pneumonia, which is the type most likely to affect our day-to-day patients.
What are the risk factors for acquiring community-acquired pneumonia?
Some groups of adults are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia. These risk factors include:
- Age older than 65 years
- Chronic comorbidities such as chronic lung disease (cystic fibrosis, asthma, COPD), renal, heart or liver disease, and diabetes
- Have a weakened immune system due to HIV, organ transplant, chemotherapy, or long-term use of steroid medications
- Behavioral factors such as smoking or high alcohol consumption.
- Have had a recent viral upper respiratory tract infection including influenza
- Have difficulty coughing due to stroke, sedating drugs or alcohol, or limited mobility
What are the symptoms of community-acquired pneumonia?
The most common symptoms include:
- Fever (temperature higher than 100.4°F or 38°C) and chills
- Cough, increased sputum production, and difficulty breathing
- Pain when you take a deep breath
Is community-acquired pneumonia contagious?
Yes, pneumonia caused by viruses and bacteria can both be spread from one person to another.
What are the potential complications of community-acquired pneumonia?
Complications of pneumonia include:
- Accumulation of fluid in the lungs
- Life-threatening infections associated with bacteria in the bloodstream
- Cardiac complications such as heart attack, and new or worsening heart failure or cardiac arrhythmia
- Blood clots, which can lead to stroke, or further issues within the lungs
How can community-acquired pneumonia be prevented?
- Washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- If you are sick, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, dispose of used tissues immediately, and wash your hands.
- There is also a vaccine against the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you should have it. You should get a flu (influenza) vaccine every year.
- Smoking causes damage to your lungs, which increases your risk of getting pneumonia. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke exposure is another important way to help prevent pneumonia and improve your overall health.
- Living a healthy lifestyle including eating right, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent many health problems. Taking medicines as prescribed, particularly for chronic illnesses that increase the risk of pneumonia, can also help prevent health complications
Who should receive the pneumococcal vaccine?
There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine currently available:
- Conjugated Prevnar® 13 vaccine (PCV13) is given as part of the routine childhood vaccine program. PCV13 is given in addition to the Polysaccharide Pneumovax® 23 vaccine in adults who are at high risk for serious pneumococcal infection.
- Polysaccharide Pneumovax® 23 vaccine is recommended for all adults over 65 years or older and adults under 65 that answer yes to one or more of the following:
— Resident of long term care facility
— Alcoholism or illicit drug use
— Asthma (required medical care in previous 12 months)
— Sickle cell disease
— Immunocompromising conditions (e.g. HIV, cancer, transplant recipient)
— Chronic cardiac, pulmonary, kidney, liver disease
How is pneumonia treated?
Pneumonia is treated with IV or oral antibiotics, depending on the severity of the infection and the infecting organism. Most people can be treated with oral antibiotics at home, however more severe infections may require IV antibiotics administered in hospital. Some people also require treatment with inhalers and oral corticosteroids to help bring down inflammation in the lungs and help with shortness of breath.
How can my pharmacist help me prevent pneumonia?
- Providing patients basic tips on how to prevent infection, such proper handwashing technique.
- Performing regular medication reviews to ensure patients are staying up-to-date with their vaccinations
- Ensuring patients are not putting themselves at increased risk of infection, for example, by promoting smoking cessation.