Two big events recently put the disease pneumonia in the spotlight.
First, veteran comedian Dolphy was said to be battling his 11th bout of pneumonia in 11 months.
Second, Hollywood director and screenwriter Nora Ephron, famous for romantic comedies like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” died June 26 of complications arising from leukemia and pneumonia.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is the leading infectious disease killer worldwide.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lung. It may be caused by a bacteria, virus or fungi that live in the nose and mouth or from the external environment.
The most common symptoms are cough, fever, chills and shortness of breath.
This infection can be treated easily by the use of antibiotics if caught early.
The problem is when it is detected late.
Why symptoms aren’t detected in the elderly
Almost 34% of patients above 65-years-old who have a bout of pneumonia will not survive due to cardiopulmonary complications.
Unfortunately, most elderly patients and the people around them do not recognize the symptoms early. By the time they are brought to the hospital, it is often too late.
Patients in their senior years have decreased immune response. When infection hits them, they do not respond with the usual fever, increased heart rate or erratic breathing pattern as younger patients do.
The elderly patient may not have the energy to cough strongly or breathe heavily. Their symptoms are often overlooked as merely a mild discomfort of the chest.
Sometimes pneumonia in the elderly may present itself only as weakness or lethargy. No cough at all.
3 ways to prevent pneumonia
The most recent guidelines for the management of pneumonia from several international and local thoracic and pulmonary societies all agree on three key aspects to prevent pneumonia and its deadly complications:
1. Stop smoking. Stay away from people who smoke. Second-hand smoke is even worse than smoking.
2. Get a yearly influenza vaccination. Fluarix from GlaxoSmithKline costs P595.00 per shot.
3. Get a Pneumococcal vaccine every 5 years. Merck Sharpe & Dohme offers Pneumovax23 at P700.00 per shot.
Who needs to be vaccinated against pneumonia?
The following are the criteria for patients who need a pneumonia vaccine:
· Persons 65 years old and above
· Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), like Dolphy
· Patients on chemotherapy
· Cancer survivors
· Persons living or working in high risk environments
Bring grandma to the doctor even for the slightest of symptoms. It can save her life.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on. Read more on her personal blog, Filipina M.D.
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