Pneumonia: Reading the first signs correctly


Between 400,000 and 600,000 patients in Germany suffer from pneumonia every year. It is particularly dangerous for the elderly: around two thirds of patients who die from pneumonia are older than 80 years.

There are various reasons for this: With age, the overall performance of the immune system decreases. In addition, older people are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as heart failure or respiratory problems. This makes these patients more prone to complications. In addition, pneumonia in old age is often atypical: a poor condition is sometimes the only sign, so that treatment can only be started relatively late. Bedridden patients who are also ventilated have an additional increased risk of illness.

The most common triggers of pneumonia are bacteria, usually pneumococci, also known medically as Streptococcus pneumoniae. Viruses are less likely to be involved, especially flu viruses, but also fungi or occasionally foreign bodies such as swallowed food can cause pneumonia. Normally, the pathogens get into the lungs with the air we breathe, more rarely via the bloodstream.

Signs of severe respiratory ailments such as pneumonia:

  • Signs of a flu-like infection such as muscle, joint and / or headache,
  • general feeling of illness,
  • Fever or, on the contrary, low temperature; Chills followed by a high fever in bacterial pneumonia with pneumococci,
  • To cough,
  • purulent sputum, especially in the case of bacterial infection with pneumococci,
  • Difficult, faster breathing, sometimes painful breathing,
  • Palpitations,
  • possibly bluish-purple fingernails, toes or lips if there is a lack of oxygen.

With increasing age, pneumonia can progress without typical signs such as cough or fever. In addition, it is sometimes rather mild and not noticed until late. Get medical advice if you suspect it!

Unfortunately, there are no signs that, alone or in combination, clearly indicate pneumonia. Only an X-ray image and its expert evaluation provide security. Of course, you don’t want to have an X-ray of every patient who visits the doctor’s office with a fever or severe cold. The doctor’s experience is decisive here. A physical examination, along with further information about the patient’s living conditions, can confirm or refute the suspicion.

When hospitalization is required, patients with pneumonia must stay in the hospital for an average of 15 days. A good half to two thirds can also be treated at home. In these cases, however, it is important to take the medication – usually antibiotics – exactly as directed by your doctor. Those who take less on their own or stop earlier than prescribed risk growing resistant bacteria in their own body.

What prevents colds, basically also helps to prevent pneumonia. Among other things, lots of exercise in the fresh air, a vitamin-rich diet or nasal rinsing with table salt are part of it. In addition, everyone over the age of 60 should be vaccinated against pneumococci and every year against influenza. Risk groups repeat the pneumococcal vaccination every five years, such as immunocompromised patients.

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