Posted on November 07, 2017

Simple interventions and appropriate medications are the key to preventing pneumonia, says an expert at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).  Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection which the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as the single largest cause of death in children worldwide.

Pneumonia is swelling of the lung, or both lungs, and is caused by an 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 be spread through coughing and sneezing or through touch (touching a surface that has the virus on it). “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 hospitalization,” says Dr. Hisham Abdulsattar, Head of the Chest and Pulmonary Section at HMC.

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, a persistent fever of 102 F or higher, or a persistent cough. Those most at risk of pneumonia include children under five years of age and adults over 65 years of age, 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 the 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, i.e. smoking, can increase one’s risk of developing pneumonia,” he explains.

According to Dr. Abdulsattar, 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 a cold, the 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 Organization will recognize World Pneumonia Day on 12 November. The annual world health day aims to highlight the severity of pneumonia and to encourage healthcare organizations to look at ways of combating the condition.