Pneumonia - You need to know! - William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital
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William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital


Pneumonia - You need to know!

Photograph of man blowing his nose. Make good choices and get vaccinated for better health.

Photograph of man blowing his nose. Make good choices and get vaccinated for better health.

By Pam McGranahan, RN - Veterans Health Education Coordinator
Friday, January 13, 2012

Pneumonia is a life-threatening infection that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) to your lungs. This makes it hard for you to breath, and difficult for your lungs to exchange oxygen.  Many different fungi, bacteria or viruses can cause pneumonia. The symptoms of this illness can range from a mild "walking pneumonia" to a deadly infection. Pneumonia can infect one lung or both (“double pneumonia”).

Risk Factors:

People of any age can get pneumonia, but some persons are at higher risk.  This includes the elderly, smokers, and those with chronic illness.  Infants and very small children can also be prone to pneumonia. Pneumonia kills more than 60,000 Americans each year.  Other threats include:

  • Having a weak immune system.
  • Being exposed to chemicals or pollutants that irritate your airways. This includes tobacco smoke.
  • Having certain chronic diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease,  lung disease, or diabetes
  • Injecting or smoking illegal drugs.
  • Abusing alcohol, because it hampers the white cells in your blood that fight infection.


Pneumonia can be tricky to diagnose.  Sometimes, it can start like a simple cold or the flu. Symptoms may not be predictable, and they may not be the same from person to person.  Warning signs of pneumonia might include:

  • A cough that won’t go away
  • Coughing up thick mucus (sputum) that is rusty, green, or bloody
  • Fever
  • Pain or soreness in your chest that seems to change with your breathing
  • Shaking chills or sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling worse again after starting to get better from a cold or the flu (influenza).

These complaints may be early clues, and should prompt you to call your provider.  Early treatment is important and can make a big difference in how well you recover.  While most of us do get better after having pneumonia, it is important to remember that this is a serious illness.  It can be life threatening.


Because pneumonia has so many different causes and can be mild or serious, your treatment may vary.  It might include antibiotics, rest, fluids, over-the-counter medications, or oxygen to help you breathe.  Pneumonia can last from four to six weeks, leaving you weak and worn out.  During your recovery, please follow the advice of your provider.  Taking good care of yourself will make a big difference.


Pneumonia is a serious illness with serious costs to your health, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. 

  • Don’t smoke.  Smoking irritates your airways and leaves them more prone to infection.
  • Take care of yourself:
    • If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, manage it.
    • Eat well to boost your health and keep your immune system strong.
    • Rest when you should.
    • Get regular exercise.
    • Wash your hands often.
    • Get your flu (influenza) vaccine every fall.

If you are in the following groups, please get your pneumococcal vaccine!  This immunization is safe and effective.  For most people, the vaccine lasts 10 years. 

  • All adults 65 years of age and older.
  • Anyone 2 through 64 years of age who has a chronic health problem.
  • Any adult 19 through 64 years of age who is a smoker or has asthma.

The staff at Madison VA wish you well.  Take care of yourself this winter.  Follow up on the vaccinations you need. Choose a healthy diet, Rest when you should, and get regular exercise.  Please wash your hands.  Stay away from tobacco, and breathe easier.

References: CDC online reference (December 22, 2010).  Pneumonia Can Be prevented – Vaccines Can Help

Pilishvili, T. (2011) Pneumococcal disease prevention among adults: Opportunities and challenges.  Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.  National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.  Accessed 8/02/2011 at: pneu.pdf

Medline Plus.  Pneumonia.  Accessed 8/4/2011 at:


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