Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. die from pneumonia each year, and most of those patients are adults. While those statistics may seem dire, it’s important to remember that nearly 250,000 people are diagnosed with this disease annually. Find out how to prevent pneumonia, how it’s diagnosed, and what to do if you think you’ve got it.
There are three ways that pneumonia can spread: through contact with sicker patients in the hospital, through contact with someone with pneumonia in day-to-day life, and through a ventilator that had the pneumonia virus on it.
Sometimes illnesses such as the flu or other respiratory conditions can lead to pneumonia if not treated (especially if the patient has preexisting conditions).
Of course, many patients are also fearful of contracting pneumonia associated with COVID-19, as coronavirus-related pneumonia can cause respiratory distress. It’s also a preexisting condition that could lead to a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 (if you’ve suffered from severe pneumonia in the past, you are at a higher risk of contracting another respiratory-related illness).
Pneumonia has four stages: congestion, red hepatization, grey hepatization, and resolution.
The first stage, congestion, happens relatively quickly (within the first 24 hours of contracting the disease). The lungs turn a reddish color in the second stage and a greyish color in the third stage. Stage two begins about three days after contraction and stage three occurs about three days after stage two. Resolution is when the debris is expelled from the body (through coughing) or absorbed back into it.
Pneumonia is extremely contagious — though, an infected person is only contagious for about 24-to-48 hours after beginning antibiotics.
Compared to other conditions, pneumonia isn’t contagious for very long after starting antibiotics.
Walking pneumonia is a variation of the illness that isn’t as dangerous as regular pneumonia. Often, patients confuse walking pneumonia for a common cold or the flu. This variation of pneumonia often goes away on its own (with at-home care) and only lasts for a few days to up to a week (though a cough can linger for much longer than one week).
The symptoms of walking pneumonia are similar to the flu and may include a fever, hot and cold chills, shortness of breath, and chest pains. (All of these symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19, so it’s best to contact an online doctor for a virtual diagnosis if you have these symptoms. If you’re feeling shortness of breath, head to the nearest hospital or clinic to get tested.)
Pneumonia is often caused by other viruses and illnesses that have similar symptoms to pneumonia. While walking pneumonia is considered a milder version of pneumonia, this virus can lead to pneumonia if not treated properly.
Most cases of pneumonia are caused by:
Higher-risk patients (people with respiratory illnesses and those who are too old, young, or vulnerable to get a flu shot) need to be especially careful after contracting one of the above conditions.
The symptoms of pneumonia are similar to the symptoms you may have experienced when you contracted the flu virus. The symptoms themselves can be extremely uncomfortable — and even lead to much more serious conditions. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Prevention is the best treatment for pneumonia. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to prevent this illness. One of the most common prevention methods is to protect yourself from getting sick from the flu or other viruses and conditions that lead to pneumonia. Other common ways to prevent pneumonia include:
The most common treatment routes include antibiotics, antiviral medications, and antifungal medications. Yet before you can begin a medical regimen, you’ll need to be tested to rule out any other viruses or conditions.
Doctors have plenty of tools at their disposal to diagnose pneumonia. Generally, you’ll need to see a doctor in-person for most of these tests (though your doctor may recommend doing an oral diagnosis on the phone or online beforehand so you’re not exposed to sicker patients unnecessarily).
If your doctor asks to see you in person, you may need to get a physical exam where your doctor or nurse practitioner will listen to your breathing.
Some of the most common tests doctors run to check for pneumonia include:
Pneumonia treatments are relatively easy to administer (if the virus hasn’t advanced). Most treatments are oral and include antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals.
If you are prescribed medication, you’ll need to take the medication until the doctor recommends ceasing treatment — even if you’re starting to feel better.
If you have walking pneumonia, your doctor may not prescribe you any medication at all. Instead, you’ll be sent home and advised to take over-the-counter pain medication, get plenty of rest, and push fluids.
It’s important to stay at home so you don’t infect others.
Your doctor may recommend taking an expectorant or cough suppression medicine to ease your respiratory symptoms.
If you’re concerned you’ve contracted pneumonia, we recommend contacting an online doctor to start your virtual diagnosis. You don’t want to wait until your symptoms have progressed to get the treatment you need.