Influenza or Pneumonia

Influenza (the flu) and pneumonia are considered in this article, not because they are specifically senior illnesses, but because seniors are more susceptible to them than younger people, and seniors have a more difficult time recovering from influenza and pneumonia. 

Watch that cough!

The flu is a common cause of pneumonia, but most cases of the flu do not lead to pneumonia. However, those cases of flu that do lead to pneumonia tend to be more severe and can be deadly. 

Risk Factors

A challenge to a lung.

Let’s take a look at the risk factors for pneumonia.  Some risk factors we can control more than others.

Our age.  Getting older is a good thing, but it does increase our risk of contracting illnesses that diminish our health.  That’s because our immune system loses its vitality as we age, and thus, we become less able to fight off diseases and infections.

Our environment.  The air we breathe is filled with dust, pollution, and sometimes chemicals and toxic fumes, which tend to weaken our lungs and thus make them more vulnerable to infection.

Our immune system.  As suggested earlier, aging tends to weaken the immune system.  Particularly vulnerable are people who have had HIV/AIDS, long-term steroid use, are receiving chemotherapy, have had an organ transplant, or have long-term steroid use.

Have been hospitalized, especially in ICU.  Being on a ventilator increases our risk because a ventilator makes it harder to cough and can trap germs that can cause lung infections. 

Other Threats

The following conditions also contribute to a greater risk of pneumonia:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Asthma
  • Heart disease
  • Emphysema
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell disease

Beneficial Behaviors

It's important to stay hydrated.

None of us is sitting around hoping to get pneumonia.  What are some behaviors we can adopt to help us avoid succumbing to the disease?  The following suggestions will prove to be helpful:

  • Practice a healthy lifestyle.  Eat a balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.  Exercise frequently.  Get plenty of sleep.  These choices will greatly aid in keeping our immune system healthy and strong.
  • Don’t smoke.  Smoking damages our lungs, saps our strength and energy, and shortens our life.  It’s a terrible habit to break, but the results are well worth the effort.
  • Practice good hygiene by washing our hands frequently with soap and water. 
  •  Avoid sick people as far as possible.
Greatest blessing: our health!

Help at Home

If we find ourselves at home and suffering from pneumonia, here are some suggestions we might find helpful:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.  Fluids help keep us hydrated, and hydration helps loosen the mucus in our lungs.  Water, warm tea, and clear soups can help.
  • Get lots of rest.  Rest helps our bodies fight the infection.
  • If we smoke, stop it!  Avoid second-hand smoke.  Smoking can make our symptoms worse and increases our risk of pneumonia and other lung problems.
  • Stay home from work or school until our symptoms go away.  Again, it’s an issue of rest until our bodies recover.
  • A cool-mist humidifier and/or a warm bath is beneficial.  These can help us clear our lungs and make it easier to breathe.

Even as seniors, we still have choices to help maximize our health and live our lives to the maximum!

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