What You Need to Know About Pneumonia
My name is Dr. Natalie Owens-Sloan. I am a hospitalist here at Brookings Health System.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is, in its simplest form, an infection in your lungs. It can be caused by a lot of different things including bacteria, which is what we typically think of with pneumonia, but it can also be caused from viruses and from fungi.
What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?
Signs and symptoms for pneumonia are actually kind of common to a lot of different diseases. You may just feel poorly, you may have fever, chills, body aches. Some of the more common things for pneumonia will be a cough, especially if it's productive of dark sputum or yellowish or greenish sputum. You can also feel very short of breath. So those are the most common things we see with pneumonia.
How do you diagnose pneumonia?
The easiest way that we diagnose pneumonia is usually through either a chest X-ray or a CAT scan of the chest. Those are just radiologic studies that we use here to take pictures of the chest. And when pneumonia is there, we will see, they call it an infiltrate, but it will be some fluffiness in the lung and that will tell us that pneumonia is there.
Who is at risk for pneumonia?
There are people that are at more risk for developing pneumonia such as our elderly patients, especially people above the age of 50. The older we get, the higher our risk would be for pneumonia. Other patients who are at risk for developing pneumonia are people who are, you know, in poor health or immunocompromised, maybe they've had a solid organ transplant and they're on immunosuppressants or patients who already have reduced lung function such as people with COPD or emphysema.
What complications can arise from pneumonia?
If you're not exchanging oxygen well in your lungs, you can become hypoxemic. Maybe you're not getting enough oxygen in your blood and then you'll be more short of breath. Some people, that progresses to a point where they become not able to then keep up with their oxygen requirements and end up intubated on a ventilator, which is of course life threatening at that point.
What is the best way to prevent pneumonia?
The best prevention of course is to stay healthy. For people who are at risk such as our elderly patients or diabetic patients or people with COPD is to get a vaccine. It's a pneumococcal vaccine and you can get it through your primary care physicians office.
What should someone, who is experiencing symptoms, do?
If there's any concern whatsoever and you feel particularly ill and you're not able to get into your primary care physicians office, I think you go to the ER. I think you always err on the side of caution. If you have a primary care physician, which hopefully most people do this day and age, I think it's okay to call them and see if they're able to get you into their office and if they're not, I think you go to the ER.
When is a pneumonia patient hospitalized?
People who are normally hospitalized again are our elderly, immunocompromised patients. If you are hypoxemic, which we talked about earlier, meaning not enough oxygen in your blood, you would definitely be hospitalized because at that point you would need supplemental oxygen. If you're not eating and drinking well, you're not able to take the pills that we would need you to take as an antibiotic for the pneumonia, then we would hospitalize you in that case as well and give it through an IV.
How do you treat pneumonia?
Depending on the type of pneumonia that you have, we would give antibiotics if it were a bacterial infection. If it were a fungal infection, we would do antifungals. Those can be either pills or through an IV.
When can a pneumonia patient leave the hospital?
We would of course want you to be feeling much better. We would want you to be able to take care of yourself at home, especially if you lived alone. You would have to be on oral medications at that point so you would have to be able to eat and drink well and swallow your pills. If you needed oxygen when you first came in, you would have to be off of oxygen. Very occasionally, we will send patients home on oxygen. Let's say everything else is doing great and they're still requiring some oxygen, we can send them home with oxygen and then they can be reevaluated by their primary care doctor to determine when and if they needed to continue the oxygen.
Why should patients seek pneumonia care from Brookings Health System?
Patients should choose Brookings Health System when they're seeking treatment because we have full-time hospitalists now on staff. We provide inpatient care and we're all specialists in that. We treat all the life-threatening illnesses of hospitalized patients and I think we do a really good job here. We care about the whole patient and providing excellent care.