It’s wintertime as one can guess by the sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing that we hear in the stores and on the street. This year my family was not spared, as my daughter was bed-ridden the whole Christmas week. I finally had to take her to the hospital as we are still on the waiting list for a family doctor¹. Actually, I was quite surprised when I got there on a Saturday morning as there were only about twenty people waiting in line. I was expecting it to look like a war zone as it was between Christmas and New Year’s eve. Twenty people in line still meant a five hour wait mind you. We were finally seen by the doctor and the verdict was in, my daughter had pneumonia. As a parent, you hear the diagnosis and you start to second-guess everything you did leading up to the news. Maybe if I had done this or why didn’t I do that? Be that as it may, these are the moments when you are glad to have a health-care system in place that takes care of you and you are at least happy to know the reason for your child’s suffering.
So, as in moments like these, I thought that I would inform myself, and hopefully you as well, about pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused most often by a virus or bacteria. To be more precise, the infection affects the pulmonary alveoli, which are tiny bags in the shape of balloons at the end of bronchioles. When this microbe attacks the lungs, the body reacts with an inflammatory reaction. The alveoli fill with pus and liquid, which creates the respiratory difficulties. About 200,000 to 300,000 Canadians will catch pneumonia each year. Children, the elderly, people with a chronic respiratory illness or a chronic illness which weakens their immune system are all more at risk of catching pneumonia.
Here are a few of the symptoms of pneumonia to keep an eye out for.
A sudden spike in fever which can go up to 41°C and be accompanied with shivering. Shortness of breath with a quick pulse and rate of breathing. A cough which is dry at the beginning and develops into a wet cough with yellow or green expectorations after a few days. A pain in the chest region which is worse when coughing or when taking a deep breath. A decline in the person’s general state, such as tiredness or loss of appetite can be another sign. Muscular aches, a headache, and wheezing while breathing are other indicators of a possibility for this disease.
The best prevention for this illness is to follow a healthy lifestyle, especially in winter. Not smoking helps as well, as smoke weakens the lungs to infections. Washing your hands with soap and water is another good way to help prevent any infection.
If, however, you have already caught pneumonia, what should you do?
After starting a dose of antibiotics, the most important thing to do is to get lots of rest. Placing a couple pillows under your head at night can help with your breathing. Make sure you drink plenty of water. Don’t take a cough medicine without consulting your doctor. Some cough syrups suppress the elimination of mucus and can actually aggravate the situation. Also be careful to not be exposed to smoke, cold air, or pollution. Just make sure to finish the full treatment of your antibiotics even if you feel much better after a few days. More and more viruses and bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics partially from patients not finishing their course of treatment.
¹Since this article was written, my daughter and I have both received family doctors.