Pneumonia in older people
Pneumonia is a condition in which there is an infection
in the lung.
It can be caused by many different organisms such
as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, although bacteria are responsible
for approximately 50% of cases. Infection usually occurs when a person breathes
in these microorganisms.
Breathing corrosive chemicals or toxic gases from
a fire into the stomach, can also cause pneumonia.
In some rare cases, pneumonia is contracted when
bacterial colonies from infections in other parts of the body, travel to the
lungs via the bloodstream.
While people of all ages can contract pneumonia,
it most commonly affects older people, especially those over the age of 70.
are the symptoms of pneumonia?
- Coughing: The cough is dry at first but after
a day or two, the person starts to cough up phlegm. (Phlegm, also known as
sputum, is a mixture of saliva/spit and mucus.) This phlegm is usually yellow,
rust-coloured or bloodstained.
- Breathing difficulties: Breathing may be fast
and shallow, as the infected person gasps for air. Sometimes their lips and
nails turn a bluish colour due to the lack of air (known as cyanosis). It
may also hurt for them to take a deep breath or to cough.
- Pains in the chest.
- Shivering fits and fever.
- Cold sores: The person may experience an outbreak
of cold sores caused by the herpes virus. This is a sign that the body is
unable to defend itself against the virus.
- In older people, confusion or urinary or faecal
incontinence can be the first signs of a pneumonia.
If you have any of these symptoms, or notice them
in anyone else, visit your doctor immediately.
is most at risk from contracting pneumonia?
- Older people, especially those over the age
- People with weak immune systems, such as people
who are HIV positive or have AIDS.
- Alcoholics and people who have had a stroke:
The epiglottis is found at the top of the larynx (voice-box). When we breathe,
the epiglottis opens allowing air to travel down the larynx toward the lungs.
When we swallow food or drink or regurgitate (vomit) something up, the epiglottis
closes to ensure that these substances don't get to the lungs. Alcohol and
stroke interferes with the function of the epiglottis, which means the lungs
may be contaminated with the swallowed or regurgitated substances.
- Chronically ill, such as people with asthma
or heart conditions.
- Smokers. People who inhale second-hand smoke
can be at risk also.
- Children, especially those who are chronically
- People who have had their spleen removed.
are older people more at risk of contracting pneumonia?
Older people tend to be more at risk of developing
pneumonia because of changes in their immune system. As they get older, their
immune systems become weaker.
This is worsened if they have a chronic condition
such as asthma or a heart condition.
As smoking can put people at risk, older people
who smoke have probably done so for many years, increasing this risk even more.
Stroke can put people at risk of developing pneumonia
and older people are more likely to have a stroke.
is pneumonia treated?
Hospitalisation is usually required, especially
for older people and those who have a weak immune system.
Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics.
Other treatments, such as chest physiotherapy,
may also be required.
there a vaccine available in Ireland?
There is a vaccine available to combat pneumococcus
pneumonia, which is caused by the pneumococcus bacteria.
Around 50% of all pneumonia cases are caused by
bacteria. The pneumococcus bacteria is the main cause of the most typical pneumonia.
This vaccine is particularly recommended for people
who have had their spleen removed. Anyone over the age of 65 is also encouraged
to consider it. People with chronic illnesses such as chronic heart disease
are also recommended to have this vaccination.
This vaccine may be given at the same time as the
flu vaccination. You can get further details from your doctor and discuss the
advisability of having this vaccine with him / her.
can older people do to decrease the risk of contracting pneumonia?
- Give up smoking. If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Discuss pneumococcal vaccine with your doctor.
- Since many cases of bacterial pneumonia occur
in people who are first infected with the flu, yearly vaccinations against
the flu are highly recommended.
- If you have a long-term disease or condition,
visit your doctor regularly and ensure you maintain treatment and finish any
medication that is prescribed for you.