Seasonal changes can cause a variety of diseases and pneumonia is one of the infections brought on by viruses and bacteria that is a common phenomenon during the winter. It is important to understand that pneumonia can happen at any time of year, not just during the winter however, the number of patients suffering from pneumonia rises during the colder months as people tend to spend more time indoors and are in closer proximity to certain bacteria, fungus or viruses.
Pneumonia is described as an inflammation of the tissue in one or both lungs and is caused by an infection due to bacteria and viruses, which are contagious and can spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks, sending respiratory droplets into the air. Therefore, it becomes crucial to take certain preventive measures to safeguard ourselves, especially during the winter when the disease is more common.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Vivek Singh, Director, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at Medanta in Gurugram, explained, “When temperatures drop, bacteria, viruses, and fungus are more likely to remain stable in the air and remain in the form of respiratory droplets. Additionally, during the winter, our immunity tends to decrease, which weakens the system and causes damage to the airways, creating a clear passage for bacteria and viruses to cause infection in the lungs.”
There are some high risk groups that have low immunity due to certain characteristics or conditions they are suffering from that make them more vulnerable to developing pneumonia. According to Dr Vivek Singh, these groups are:
• Children under the age of five and the elderly between the ages of 60 and 65
• People suffering from chronic illnesses affecting their vital organs such as their lungs, heart, liver, kidney, brain, etc.
• Smokers are also more likely to develop pneumonia than non-smokers.
Therefore, it’s always recommended to stay healthy, stay up to date with the medication to control other conditions and get vaccinated if you are in a high-risk group. Dr Vivek Singh shared, “Pneumonia symptoms are often confused with those of the flu, or flu-like sickness, because both diseases have common symptoms. Both conditions can cause coughing, fever, sweating, chills, and muscle pains. However, pneumonia is a more serious lung infection, whereas the flu is an infection that affects the nose, throat, and upper airways.”
Revealing the most common causes of the widespread cases these days, he said, “Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common cause of pneumonia spread. It can occur outside of hospitals or other health care facilities. It can be caused by the bacteria and viruses present in the air we breathe. Usually, our body protects us from harmful bacteria getting into our lungs. Even if your health is generally good, these viruses have the potential to overwhelm your immune system on occasion. Additionally, Covid-19 may also cause pneumonia, which can become severe if not controlled in time.”
Talking about how to identify a pneumonia cough and fever and what are the early symptoms, the health expert said, “The severity of pneumonia symptoms depends on the cause of the condition as well as one's general health. People may experience high fever, coughing up blood, yellow or greenish mucus, reduced appetite, sharp pain in the chest, fast and shallow breathing, shortness of breath or wheezing, lips and fingernails turning blue, lack of appetite, dehydration, malaise, and sweating, etc. Increased heart rate and fatigue due to severe coughing is also common.”
He added, “Children may experience breathing issues, fever, a cold, and wheezing. In most cases, infants and newborns show no signs of infection; however, some may exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, fever, coughing, being irritable, tired, lacking energy, and having difficulty breathing and eating. If you have a persistent fever of 102 F (39 C) or higher, as well as continuous coughing with pus or blood, you should see a doctor or a pulmonologist right away.”
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and adopting appropriate safety precautions can keep a person safe, healthy, and free from pneumonia. Suggesting effective tips to prevent pneumonia during winters, Dr Vivek Singh recommended -
• Pneumonia vaccine: The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal bacterial infections. It's also known as the pneumonia vaccine. There are two pneumonia vaccines that are prescribed: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax 23). The pneumococcal vaccine is commonly recommended for children and adults over 65. They are also strongly prescribed for people aged 19 to 64 suffering from co-morbid conditions like chronic heart disease, liver disease, HIV, diabetes mellitus, leukaemia, chronic lung disease, etc. However, it should be taken under a doctor’s guidance. If you are allergic to the vaccine, pregnant, or have a severe cold or flu, you should consult your doctor before getting vaccinated.
• Sanitize your hands: Although pneumonia is not contagious, it can be caused by a variety of infectious organisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Washing hands can help avoid transferring these organisms into your respiratory system.
• Avoid contact with sick people: It is an important step in preventing respiratory infections and pneumonia, as most respiratory infections can spread through even tiny particles in the air or on the surfaces we touch.
• Adapting healthy habits: Apart from the above important steps, it is very vital to adopt healthy habits as they make our immunity strong and play a key role in building the body’s ability to resist infections that can lead to pneumonia. People should take enough rest, eat a balanced diet, stay physically active, exercise for 45 minutes, avoid smoking, and avoid exposure to pollution rich areas and harmful chemicals. Staying hydrated during the winter also helps.