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Everything you need to know about pneumonia

A few years ago, my former radio cohost and friend had what I thought was a big, bad case of man flu. He complained about coughing a lot. I reassured him, saying not to worry about it too much, that his annoying cold wouldn’t last long… When he wasn’t feeling any better, he ended up going to see a doctor and told me he had pneumonia.

Ouch! Yay for me for my advice! Good thing he didn’t listen to me and went to a doctor!

So now that we’re in the middle of flu season again, I decided it was time to learn more so I can protect those around me and share the RIGHT information with them.

What is pneumonia?

Let’s start with the basics – what is pneumonia? Streptococcus pneumoniæ (or pneumococcus) is one of the most common bacterial causes of walking pneumonia (or community-acquired pneumonia). It’s more than just a bad cough; it’s a bacterial infection of one or both lungs. Between 2013 and 2018, pneumonia was one of the top 10 reasons for an Emergency Room visit in Canada. So, it’s something to be taken seriously! Don’t be like me.

What are the symptoms?

Sure enough, pneumococcal pneumonia can feel like a bad flu. But on top of the typical flu symptoms (high fever, chills and cough), there’s also difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and even chest pain.

Who is at risk?

Although children under 5 and adults over 65 are at highest risk, anybody can get pneumonia. If you have a chronic lung disease like asthma or a serious illness like heart disease, cirrhosis or diabetes, you’re also more likely to get it.

What can we do to improve our odds?

Exercise, mindfulness, diet and self-care – those are the things that come to mind when we think about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially as we age. All that is important, but we also need to start thinking more about how we can help our immune system. As we age, it gets weaker, making us even more vulnerable to illness.

Obviously, quitting smoking is recommended, if you smoke, and avoiding breathing second-hand smoke.

On a daily basis, washing our hands often (we’re getting good at that!) and good oral hygiene (to help reduce the spread of bad bacteria including bacteria which cause pneumonia) can help prevent illness.

I learned recently that there’s a vaccine available to help protect adults from pneumococcal pneumonia. I knew kids were getting a vaccine for pneumococcal disease, but I didn’t know there was one for adults too.

As always, when it comes to your health, the best decision is making an appointment with your doctor – not listening to your colleagues – or even your pharmacist (yes, in Quebec, you can talk to pharmacists about vaccinations!). Tell them about any changes in your health. Ask them if you’re at risk and, if you are, what you can do to reduce the risks of getting pneumonia and having complications. Talk to them about the vaccine and check if it’s a good fit for you.

Doctors and pharmacists will be able to give you much better advice than your office buddy, take my word for it!

Pneumococcal disease vaccines do not protect everybody who gets them, are not a treatment for pneumonia and do not protect against its complications.

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Everything you need to know about pneumonia