Flu Complications: Pneumonia Due to Influenza

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Can you see the shadowing in the upper right lobe of the lungs? This is an indication of pneumonia. Photo by the CDC.

Pneumonia deaths have been above the epidemic threshold this flu season – protect yourself and know the signs in advance.

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious upper respiratory infection that can result in more than just sniffles and a few days off of work or school. If the body aches, fever, and other flu symptoms aren’t enough, influenza can develop into bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections, and the most common and most serious, pneumonia. So when do you know that the flu you are suffering from is more than just the flu?

Pneumonia Symptoms: Do You Have Pneumonia, or Just The Flu?

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by an infection  – the most common symptoms of pneumonia include cough, fever, chills, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms include confusion (generally in older people), excess sweating or clammy skin, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, and having a sharp pain in the chest when taking deep breaths or coughs.

Sounds similar to the flu doesn’t it? However, one key difference is the difficulty in breathing. If you are suffering from the flu, and are having difficulty breathing, or having sharp pains when you cough or take deep breaths in, then you might have pneumonia. The doctor will listen to your breathing and will generally order a chest x-ray to confirm a pneumonia diagnosis.

Flu Complications: Who is At Risk?

So who is at risk for developing complications from the flu, such as pneumonia? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages five and under and especially children ages two and under are at high risk. Adults who are 65 years or older, and pregnant women are at high risk for developing pneumonia. The CDC also reports that American Indians and Alaskan natives also seem to be at a higher risk than other ethnicities. People who have medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and those with cancer or chronic diseases are also at risk. If you’re morbidly obese, you are also at risk for flu complications such as pneumonia.

Recovering from Pneumonia

If you do have viral pneumonia, see your doctor. You will probably be given an antiviral medication, but once you have your prescriptions, you can probably recover at home, unless you are severely dehydrated and need  fluids via IV ( intravenous). You may also need to be admitted to the hospital if you need oxygen support to help you breathe.

What can you do at home to soothe the symptoms of pneumonia after you’ve seen the doctor?

  • Warm moist air from a humidifier can help loosen mucus and make it easier to breathe.
  • To help open up your lungs, you should take two to three deep breaths every hour.
  • Drink six to ten cups of water, juice, or weak tea a day.

Most people with pneumonia will take about two weeks to recover, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly will need longer to feel healthy again.

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