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Pneumonia

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus. You can become infected if you come in contact with someone who is sick. You can get pneumonia if you recently had surgery or needed a ventilator to help you breathe. Pneumonia can also be caused by accidentally inhaling saliva or small pieces of food. Pneumonia may cause mild symptoms, or it can be severe and life-threatening.

What increases my risk for pneumonia?

  • A cold or the flu

  • Health conditions, such as heart or lung disease

  • A weakened immune system caused by HIV, cancer, or steroid use

  • Recent hospitalization

  • Smoking

  • Excess alcohol use

  • Older age

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing

  • Chest pain when you cough or breathe deeply

  • Headache

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue or confusion

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs. Tell him if you have other health conditions. Give him a complete list of all medicines you have taken recently. You may need any of the following:

  • Pulse oximetry measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.

  • Blood and urine tests may show signs of an infection or the bacteria causing your pneumonia. Blood tests can also show how much oxygen is in your blood.

  • A chest x-ray or CT scan may show signs of infection in your lungs.

  • A mucus sample is collected and tested for the germ that is causing your illness. It can help your healthcare provider choose the best medicine to treat the infection.

How is pneumonia treated?

  • Medicines are given to treat a bacterial infection. Your healthcare provider may also recommend acetaminophen. It decreases pain and fever and is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Airway clearance techniques are exercises to help remove mucus so you can breathe more easily. Your healthcare provider will show you how to do the exercises. These exercises may be used along with machines or devices to help decrease your symptoms.

  • Respiratory support is given to help you breathe. You may receive oxygen to increase the level of oxygen in your blood. You may also need a machine to help you breathe.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest as needed. Rest often throughout the day. Alternate times of activity with times of rest.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Liquids help thin your mucus, which may make it easier for you to cough it up.

  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for pneumonia. Smoking also makes it harder for you to get better after you have had pneumonia. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help to quit smoking.

How can I prevent pneumonia?

  • Avoid the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use gel hand cleanser when there is no soap and water available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first. Cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.

  • Limit alcohol. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

  • Ask about vaccines. You may need a vaccine to help prevent pneumonia. Get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms are the same or get worse 48 hours after starting antibiotics.

  • Your fever is not below 99°F (37.2°C) 48 hours after starting antibiotics.

  • You have a fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C).

  • You cannot eat or have loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You cough up blood.

  • Your heart beats more than 100 beats in 1 minute.

  • You are very tired, confused, and cannot think clearly.

  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing.

  • Your lips or fingernails turn gray or blue.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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