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For Your Health: Signs of pneumonia
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During the winter season, the most frequent illnesses striking the public are the common cold or flu. However, each of these sicknesses can develop into the more serious condition of pneumonia.

People are more likely to contract pneumonia when their lungs are weakened by other illness such as the flu. Smoking can also weaken the lungs and make people more prone to getting pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by bacteria or viruses. Symptoms include: cough; coughing up green-colored or rust-colored mucus; coughing up mucus tinged with blood; fever; fast breathing and/or shortness of breath; chills; chest pain usually worse with coughing or breathing in deeply; fast heartbeat; feeling very tired or weak; nausea and vomiting; and diarrhea.

In older adults, they may become very confused or have a change in their mental status.

If you or a loved one have any symptoms, see your primary caregiver.

Pneumonia can be contracted in school or work, which is called community-acquired pneumonia. People who contract the disease while in a hospital or nursing home get health care-associated pneumonia. Either type can result in a person becoming very sick.

Many people who get pneumonia can be treated at home. However, some who are at higher risk need to be hospitalized. Higher-risk persons include infants and young children, those older than 65, and persons with underlying health problems or weakened immune systems.

Pneumonia is diagnosed with a chest X-ray and blood test. Patients might also need to have their mucus tested to see what type of germ caused the pneumonia, allowing for the correct antibiotic to be ordered.

The doctor may feel the need to hospitalize the person, depending on the results. If hospitalized, patients will receive antibiotics intravenously initially. The doctor will also order other medications for cough and shortness of breath if indicated.

After going home, the doctor will sometimes tell the patient to continue to take the antibiotic by mouth for a few days. Be sure to take all of the antibiotics even if you are feeling better. Also, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Do not smoke during the recovery period or be around people who smoke.

If you are treated at home, take all of the prescribed antibiotics. If you are not feeling better within 24 to 48 hours after starting the antibiotics, then return to your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.

To prevent future problems with pneumonia, get the pneumonia vaccine. It is one injection twice in a lifetime. Getting the flu shot yearly will also help stave off illnesses.

Registered nurse Susan A. Irick is the disease manager of pneumonia and sepsis for Northeast Georgia Medical Center.