Simple interventions and appropriate medications are keys to preventing pneumonia, says an expert from Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection, described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the single largest cause of death in children worldwide.
Pneumonia is swelling of the lung, or both lungs, and is caused by infection, bacteria, virus, or fungi. It causes inflammation in the air sacs, which makes breathing painful and limits oxygen intake. Pneumonia can be contagious and the bacteria and viruses that cause the infection are usually inhaled. The condition can spread through coughing and sneezing or through touch (touching a surface that has the virus on it).
Dr Hisham Abdulsattar, Head of HMC Chest and Pulmonary Section, said that the severity of pneumonia varies.
It can cause a simple chest infection or make the affected person very sick. They may cough, run a fever, and have difficulty breathing. For most people, pneumonia can be treated at home. It often clears up in two to three weeks. However, older adults, babies, and people with other diseases can become very ill from pneumonia and may require hospitalisation.’
He added that individuals with pneumonia, or those who suspect they have the infection, should seek prompt medical attention if they experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent high fever, or persistent cough. Those most at risk of pneumonia include children under five and adults over 65 years old, those who have underlying conditions that affect the lungs, such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), or asthma, those with a weakened or impaired immune system, and individuals who are recovering from a cold or influenza.
A person may be more likely to get pneumonia after having a cold or flu. These illnesses make it hard for the lungs to fight infection, so it is easier to get pneumonia. Having a long-term or chronic disease like asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes or engaging in activities that damage the lungs (like smoking), can also increase one’s risk of developing pneumonia.’
There are a number of ways to reduce one’s risk of developing pneumonia, including hand washing, quitting smoking and avoiding people who have infections such as cold, flu, or other respiratory tract infections. The risk of developing pneumonia can also be lowered by getting vaccinated against pneumococcal (the disease that is the leading cause of pneumonia), and having an annual flu vaccine.
This year, the World Health Organisation is marking the annual World Pneumonia Day on 12 November. The annual world health day aims to highlight the severity of pneumonia and to encourage healthcare organisations to look at ways of combating the condition.
For more information about pneumonia, visit the HMC website at hamad.qa.