Originally created 01/19/99

Age old questions



Dear Readers:

Winter is cold and flu season. It is important to monitor your health to avoid side-effects such as pneumonia.

According to the Mayo Clinic, pneumonia describes infection or inflammation of the lung. It can be brought on by inhaling dust, chemical irritants, food, and dozens of other bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Usually, your body is able to fight off the intruders naturally. But if your body's defenses are down, you may be unable to prevent germs from multiplying in your lungs.

Each year, more than 40,000 Americans die from pneumonia. Most are people over age 65. Even for normally healthy people, pneumonia can be life-threatening.

Pneumonia can disguise itself as a cold or flu in its early stages. However, it can turn nasty if not treated effectively. If you did not get a flu shot in the fall, it is especially important to handle your health like a delicate glass ball. Remember that even the mildest cold can shatter your well-being. Much like rust on a car or bubbling house paint, there could be much deeper damage under the surface if the outer symptoms are untreated.

To properly diagnose pneumonia, watch for symptoms such as shaking chills, headache, muscle pain, chest pain, a persistent cough or an unexplained fever. If you are recovering from a "bug" and suddenly feel worse, there is also cause to alert your doctor. Pneumonia is especially common in the aging, alcoholics, and those on chemotherapy. For all of these groups, the lungs may be more susceptible to the bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bacterial pneumonia often follows an upper respiratory infection. Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, is caused by the flu virus or another virus. It is not unusual for a bacterial infection to follow a viral one.

Bacterial pneumonia is most often treated with antibiotics while viral pneumonia must be treated with antiviral medications and the normal regimen of rest and plenty of fluids. Even after you feel better, it is important to visit your doctor for a follow-up. You certainly don't want your pneumonia to come back -- and this time, it may be stronger.

To reduce your risk for pneumonia, get vaccinated each year. And your mother's advice really is true: Wash your hands regularly. Hand-washing decreases exposure to harmful germs.

Another way to avoid pneumonia is to put your cigarettes away -- for good. Not only can quitting smoking help your heart, but it can also help your lungs. Smoking damages your lungs' natural defenses against infection.

Proper rest, diet, and exercise also help you avoid pneumonia.

If you have a question or would like more information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.