Pneumonia is more common that you probably think. For instance, except for women giving birth, pneumonia is the number one reason adults seek care in a hospital; this totals more than 1 million adults each year, of which about 50,000 die from the illness. And if you think that the bulk of these cases occur in seniors and children, think again. It is true that seniors and children are higher risks for getting pneumonia, but half of all adults hospitalized for this disease range in age from 18 to 57 years.
Since several forms of pneumonia are contagious, the possibility of contracting this illness in the workplace exists; however, informed workers can reduce this risk through several commonplace health practices. As more seniors continue working these days, and those individuals are more likely to contract pneumonia, developing habits and practices that will prevent pneumonia in the workplace is valuable and can be lifesaving.
PNEUMONIA: WHAT IT IS
Pneumonia affects the lungs through inflammation commonly caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, filling the air sacs at the end of the airways with pus. Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs (respectively described as single or double pneumonia), or a certain lobe of the lung (known as lobar pneumonia). Walking pneumonia is a milder form of the disease which typically does not require bed rest but still needs attention.
Some cases of pneumonia can occur by exposure to chemical fumes or similar poisons, but because the illness was not caused from infectious agents, it is not contagious. However, there are other contagious cases considered to be “community acquired” and include:
- Hospital-acquired pneumonia – this can happen for patients during a hospital stay, even if the original reason for admission had nothing to do with pneumonia
- Health care-acquired pneumonia – other public places can also expose one to pneumonia, such as long term care facilities and outpatient clinics like a kidney dialysis treatment center
- Aspiration pneumonia – can occur from inhaling food, liquids, saliva, or vomit into the lungs (common for those with brain injuries, swallowing difficulty, and overuse of alcohol and/or drugs)
PNEUMONIA: RISK FACTORS
While any healthy person can contract pneumonia because of its highly contagious nature, certain groups of people are considered to be at a higher risk than the general population. This includes:
- Young and senior age groups – particularly, children aged 2 or younger and adults age 65 and older are more susceptible to this illness
- Pregnant women – thanks to the natural immune suppression that happens during pregnancy, along with a possibly reduced lung capacity at the later stage, this disease is more likely to occur for pregnant women than other adults
- Weakened immune systems – people suffering from AIDS/HIV, undergoing chemotherapy, or living with an auto-immune disease have weakened immune systems making them likely candidates for catching pneumonia
- Smokers – years of studies and higher instances of lung cancer and other issues concerning the lungs means the likelihood of developing pneumonia or getting it from someone else is much higher than average
- People suffering from lung or heart disease – in particular, persons dealing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will also find themselves to be at a greater risk of catching pneumonia
- Hospital admissions and regular visitors of healthcare facilities – as mentioned above, exposure to pneumonia often occurs during long term hospital stays and to regular attendees of clinics
PNEUMONIA: THE SYMPTOMS
Being able to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia will help in identifying its appearance in its early stages, when treatment can be more effective. While many of these symptoms are common discomforts we may experience, persistent and recurring problems could be the signal you need to consult a physician for a diagnosis. Accordingly, the following symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Coughing – when a cough becomes persistent, and/or green, yellow, or bloody mucus is coughed up, this is one possible sign of pneumonia
- Shortness of breath – known as dyspnea in the medical profession, shortness of breath can be a symptom of this disease but it can also be caused from being out of shape
- Fever, sweating, chills – also symptoms of the flu (which can increase the possibility of getting pneumonia), if these difficulties continue for more than several days, a diagnosis by your family practitioner is recommended to eliminate pneumonia as the problem
- Low appetite and energy – if a sense of fatigue and a lack of appetite persists beyond a few days, this too can be an early sign of the onset of pneumonia
- Nausea and vomiting – this occurs more often with younger children and should not be ignored or delayed for more than 24 hours
- Confusion – this is more common for seniors who have contracted pneumonia and should be a clear signal that a doctor visit is a must
PREVENTING PNEUMONIA IN THE WORKPLACE
Because of the constant exposure to the illnesses of everyone else, the workplace has the potential to be one of the more common points of infection for pneumonia; of course, similar but lesser risks arise for those outside the workforce, but these following tips for preventing pneumonia in the workplace are also effective in the prevention of this disease.
Getting a flu shot each year does more than prevent influenza; since the flu is one of the more common causes of pneumonia, preventing flu through vaccinations also helps to prevent pneumonia. Another important vaccination, especially for children under 5 years and adults 65 years and older, is the pneumococcal vaccine (there are two types, so ask your doctor which vaccination is recommended for you and your family). Other infections that can act as a springboard for getting pneumonia are measles, chicken pox, and whooping cough, so getting vaccinated against these possible diseases is also recommended.
Yet another reason to stop smoking (or not start) is the damage it does to your lungs and how it sets up ideal conditions for pneumonia to take hold. Plainly stated, tobacco works against your lung’s ability to stave off infections, making it an excellent candidate for inviting severe illnesses like pneumonia to successfully invade your respiratory system. Not surprisingly, smokers are such a high-risk group, that getting the pneumococcal vaccine is strongly recommended regardless of age.
WASH, WASH, AND WASH MORE
Again, in a busy work environment, lots of people are spreading germs during their workday without even thinking or being aware of it. While it may sometimes seem overly protective, regularly washing one’s hands after blowing their nose, using the bathroom, changing diapers, and during food preparation and meals is not a compulsive-obsessive behavior but instead is a basic safety and health habit you want to nurture.
PROACTIVE HEALTH AWARENESS
Establishing positive and healthy habits, such as regular exercising, sufficient rest and sleep, and eating healthily, all help tremendously in preventing or reducing viruses and respiratory problems. Those same good habits also help a person to bounce back to health faster if they do get sick. Finally, health-focused individuals are generally more in tune with their body, meaning they notice when something it out of whack. Such people do not delay seeing their physician if they notice certain symptoms lasting longer than a couple of days, which often can make the difference between getting ill or staying healthy.
Seniors and other citizens can remain healthy and prevent most cases of pneumonia through these easy and commonsense practices and habits. This way you can stay connected to the world and society without unnecessary risks. Want to learn more about health habits for seniors? Contact us to learn about all the services we offer to seniors to keep their life happy and healthy!
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