It’s easy to confuse pneumonia with the flu, or flu-like sickness, because they have so much in common. In both cases you’ll likely experience cough, fever, sweats, chills and muscle aches. However, the flu is an infection of the nose, throat and upper airways, whereas pneumonia is a deeper lung infection. There are several types of pneumonia, the most common of which are Mycoplasma/Walking Pneumonia, Bacterial Pneumonia and Viral Pneumonia.
Types of Pneumonia
Mycoplasma Pneumonia, commonly referred to as “Walking Pneumonia” is the mildest form of this illness. In fact, walking pneumonia often goes undiagnosed because individuals may assume it is a common cold. “Walking pneumonia may not cause you to retreat to your bed and hide under the blanket and sheets, but you still may feel a little “off” with symptoms such as cough, a sore throat, headache, and overall weakness. It’s important to note that walking pneumonia is still highly contagious for up to 10 days, meaning proper diagnosis and treatment is crucial,” explains Jeffrey Millstein, MD, physician at Penn Internal Medicine Woodbury Heights.
Bacterial pneumonia is caused by the weakening of the body’s defenses in cases such as chronic illness, poor nutrition, aging, or an impaired immune system. “This weakened state makes it difficult for the body to fight bacteria, which may result in bacteria entering the lungs and causing infection,” says Dr. Millstein. Bacterial pneumonia can affect people of all ages but you are at greater risk if you are elderly, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, recently had surgery, have a respiratory disease or viral infection, or have a weakened immune system.
The flu and other viral infections can progress and develop into pneumonia, called viral pneumonia. “Approximately one third of all pneumonia cases are caused by viral infections. Having viral pneumonia can also increase your risk of developing bacterial pneumonia,” explains Dr. Millstein. Viral pneumonia can occur in individuals of all ages and is often marked by symptoms including cough, pinkeye, fever, chills, shortness of breath, and pain in your chest. Your doctor may recommend medication that will help manage your symptoms, however, in most cases your immune system will fight the virus off on its own.
How is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
If you’re not feeling well and think that you may have pneumonia, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. “Your provider will perform a physical examination and if they suspect that you might have pneumonia, they may order a chest x-ray. Some other methods that may be used to test for pneumonia include blood tests or checking your sputum for infection,” says Dr. Millstein.
How is Pneumonia Treated?
Your pneumonia treatment plan will depend on which type you are diagnosed with. For example, if you are diagnosed with mycoplasma or bacterial pneumonia, your provider will likely prescribe antibiotics. However, these medications won’t help if you’re diagnosed with viral pneumonia. More severe cases of pneumonia may require hospitalization, especially in the elderly or young children. In all cases however, your provider will recommend that you rest and drink plenty of fluids to allow your body to recover. Pneumonia typically clears up within 2-3 weeks.
Protect Yourself from Pneumonia Today!
The good news is that there ARE ways to protect yourself against this illness. One of the most effective ways to fight against pneumonia is by getting vaccinated:
- Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine and Pneumococcal Polysaccharide vaccine are effective for prevention of a potentially severe type of bacterial pneumonia caused by streptococcus pneumoniae
- Flu vaccine is recommended yearly
Other ways to prevent pneumonia include:
- Avoid or quit smoking.
- Avoid people who have a cold or the flu.
- Wash your hands often.
- Take all of your prescribed treatments.
- Get regular check-ups.
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of pneumonia, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.