Pneumonia in Colder Weather
With the weather getting colder and wetter in the Pacific Northwest, we’re all more susceptible to catch colds and the flu. What’s also more common in the winter months—because more of us stay indoors and in close quarters with one another—is pneumonia.
In this post, we’ll clarify what pneumonia is, how a person catches it, what symptoms to watch for if you think you have pneumonia, what can happen if it is left untreated and how soon you should seek help if you believe you have pneumonia.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that is either caused by bacteria, a virus or a fungus. When the infection occurs, the air sacs in the lungs may fill with pus or fluid. Anyone from the age of infancy can be susceptible to pneumonia and the United States alone sees more than 3 million cases per year.
How does a person contract pneumonia?
Pneumonia is transmitted in one of two ways: By inhaling a poison or by catching a contagion from a person infected with a viral or bacterial form of pneumonia. The contagious form of it can be transmitted through coughs, sneezes, touching infected surfaces, etc. just as one would catch the cold or flu.
Those who smoke, suffer from a chronic disease, have a weakened immune system or have to stay in a hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) over a period of time are at a greater risk for contracting pneumonia.
To lessen chances of getting pneumonia, wash hands regularly, cough or sneeze into a tissue, avoid sharing utensils and cups with others and get vaccinated. Consult with your provider about which vaccine will be most effective for your individual needs.
What are the signs of pneumonia?
The signs of pneumonia can often mimic those of a regular flu. The main symptoms include:
- High fever
- Coughing that produces green or yellow mucus
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heartbeat
- Faster breathing
- Sharp chest pains
- Lips or fingernails that turn blue
- Mental confusion (in older patients)
In general, pneumonia symptoms will be more severe than cold or flu symptoms, and symptoms will worsen in a few days’ time.
What are the dangers of pneumonia?
Pneumonia, when caught early can be treated to minimize the duration of symptoms, however if left untreated, can become very serious—even fatal—for some people.
Complications can include:
- Lung Abscess. When pus forms inside the cavity of a lung, this occurs. Antibiotics are usually used to treat this condition, but in extreme cases, drainage through a needle or surgery may be necessary.
- Bloodstream Bacteria. When bacteria caused by pneumonia enters the bloodstream from the lungs, it can potentially cause organ failure if the infection spreads throughout the body.
- Pleural Effusion. If fluid becomes infected within the thin layers of tissue that act as a liner between the lungs and the chest cavity, surgery or a drainage through a chest tube may be necessary.
- Restricted Breathing. If your pneumonia becomes severe, you may need the aid of a hospital ventilator to get enough oxygen to your lungs as they heal.
How soon should one seek medical attention for pneumonia?
When any of the above pneumonia symptoms worsen or last longer than the duration of a typical cold or flu, it’s advised to call a provider for a proper diagnosis. Once there, they may perform blood tests, take a chest X-ray, measure the oxygen in your blood with pulse oximetry or take a fluid sample from your lungs via a sputum test. Additional tests such as a CT scan or pleural fluid culture draw may be encouraged for older or more severely suffering patients.
Schedule an Appointment
If you’re seeing signs of winter pneumonia in yourself or a member of our family, and would like to schedule an appointment to be seen by a provider, contact Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice. For more general inquiries about our care facilities and practices, use the form on this page.