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Monday, 19 September 2016 00:00

How dangerous is pneumonia in the elderly?

Pneumonia is a widely-known bacterial lung condition that causes inflammation of the tissue in either one or both of the lungs.

Each of our lungs contain small sacs of air that help us breathe. When pneumonia strikes, these sacs fill with fluid which means the body can’t fight infection properly or send oxygen into the bloodstream.

Some people are unfortunately more susceptible than others. Babies, those with low immunity or undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy, as well as some illnesses and diseases such as HIV, heavy drinkers and smokers, and the elderly, are all at greater risk of contracting pneumonia.

Typically, symptoms begin much like the chest flu. Fever, cough, chills and sweating and often expelling phlegm. This is often accompanied by a lack of appetite.

The risks of self medication

People who mistake pneumonia for flu will often self-medicate and take themselves off to bed instead of to the doctor. For some, this might be enough to recover, but symptoms can become bad enough to require antibiotics and even hospitalisation. Unfortunately, without proper care, symptoms can deteriorate into confusion and disorientation. Very often pleurisy will develop, causing severe chest pains.

The elderly have much lower immunity than the younger population, and pneumonia is extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening.

If you are elderly, or care for someone who develops health issues, and particularly flu-like symptoms, then you should contact a healthcare professional immediately. Frailty and a lowered immune system means that even a mild chest infection can turn nasty very quickly, and the worse it becomes, the more difficult it will be to treat. Never wait to see if it will sort itself out as the elderly can quickly become susceptible to secondary infections and deadly bacterial infections like pneumonia.

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