Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, a virus or fungi and leads to an infection in either one or both of the lungs. In the United States, Approximately three million people will develop pneumonia each year, with about a half million having to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Five percent of those who contract pneumonia die from it, making the illness the sixth principal cause of death in the United States. In this article, we look at how nutrition, protein and a well-balanced diet can help in preventing pneumonia infections.
Pneumonia may at first look like a cold which may seem to get progressively worse with symptoms that can include high fever (it may rise as high as 104 degrees). Additional symptoms include shaking chills and a productive cough (sputum is produced with each cough and may be discolored or occasionally streaked with blood). Pain in the chest may develop if the outer area of the lungs (called the pleura) is affected; this pain may be sharp and will be worse during deep breaths, however, the pain is not always present. In some cases, pneumonia can be slower to develop and in other cases there may not be a lot of coughing at all, especially if the infection is away from the larger airways. Children, babies and the elderly may not show any particular signs or symptoms of pneumonia.
Some pneumonia is diagnosed only after an examination by a doctor reveals crackling sounds or coarse breathing in the chest. There may also be breathlessness, wheezing or the breathing sounds may be diminished in certain parts of the chest. A chest x-ray is the definitive way to diagnose the pneumonia, however sputum samples, blood tests and bronchoscopies can typically be ordered as well. The sputum samples can determine what the exact cause of the pneumonia is and determine the course of medical treatment. The blood work can help to determine how serious the infection is and may also provide a clue as to whether it is caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi.
In addition to medication, there are some treatments that may also need to be done. Pleural effusion is the collection of fluid in the pleural space which must be removed by the insertion of a needle into the chest in what is called a thoracentesis. In serious cases, this fluid may need to be removed through a surgical procedure.
Generally speaking, most often the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia is streptococcus pneumonia, which causes a sudden onset of symptoms including shaking, chills, fever and rusty colored sputum. This infection can spread to the blood and does so in 20-30% of cases, with 20-30% of those cases resulting in death.
There are two vaccines that can be used to prevent pneumococcal disease and is recommended for all children under the age of two and certain children between two and four who have additional medical risks to consider. It is also recommended that adults who are high risk for this illness, including the elderly, diabetics, those who have kidney or lung disease, chronic heart, smokers, alcoholics, and those who have had their spleen removed, receive the vaccine.
Antibiotics may be used for bacterial pneumonia, however, it is important that the cultures be completed to be sure that it is bacterial in nature. Another type of pneumonia that will respond to antibiotics is often seen in those who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or alcoholism.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a bacterium which results in a very slowly developing infection with symptoms that include chills, fever, muscle aches, a rash and diarrhea. This bacterium is commonly found in the summer and fall months and is usually referred to as atypical pneumonia.
There are other conditions that are technically pneumonia variants, including Legionnaire’s Disease and others. Legionnaire’s disease is often caused by water supplies that are contaminated and can be potentially fatal if it is not accurately diagnosed and treated. Pneumonia is only a part of the overall condition, which also includes high fever, a very diarrhea, slow heart rate, vomiting, nausea and chest pain. This is more typical in smokers, older men and people with depressed immune function.
It is important to keep in mind that pneumonia that is caused by a virus will not respond to any kind of antibiotics. The body’s own immune system typically will fight off the infection on its own, however, it is important that the condition be monitored so that a secondary infection does not develop and worsen the illness.
Fungal infections that lead to pneumonia are very rare in the United States and each have specific types of medications and treatments that are used to eliminate them.
Consideration must be made not only for the type of organism that is causing the pneumonia but where it was contracted before medication can be prescribed. In recent years, several strains of infections have become resistant to the medications that were formerly used to treat them. Of these, methicillin resistant Staph aureus, or MRSA, is the most commonly known. It may be necessary for people with this type of infection to be placed in contact isolation, especially in a hospital or long-term care setting. It is also important to monitor anyone who is coming in or out of your room if you are in a hospital, not only for MRSA but for another of the super bugs called C.difficile. A recent study found that one in five nurse’s uniforms had C.diff on them, as did handrails, waiting room tabletops and other hard surfaces.
It is important then to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to stay healthy, especially during the cold and flu season or for those who are at high risk for infection. Those who are in weakened health, including those who are being treated for autoimmune conditions, using chemotherapy for cancer or other conditions, have chronic diseases, smoke or come in regular contact with those who may have pneumonia, should have the vaccine as directed. Healthcare workers are especially encouraged to have this vaccine.
In addition to getting the vaccine, there are other things that can be done to protect yourself from the pneumonia infections: eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, getting enough rest each night and exercising at least thirty minutes every day. It is also important to make sure that you are managing the sources of stress in your life.
Part of a well-balanced and healthy diet can be protein supplements, especially those that you can stash in a gym bag on your way to exercise.
Making a protein supplement your between-meal snack can be a great way to not only ensure that you are getting enough protein (which is vital to a strong immune system) but that you are not starving yourself between each meal.