What you need to know about pneumonia

We think of this time of year as the dreaded “cold and flu season.” But a far more dangerous complication can develop if your cold or flu symptoms linger beyond a week or ten days. You could develop pneumonia, which is a more serious lower respiratory infection.

Pneumonia can actually affect anyone, at any age, at any time of year. But older adults, young children, people with compromised immune systems and with chronic diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more at risk than others.

Pneumonia can vary from mild (so-called “walking pneumonia”) to very severe cases, which are life-threatening. Since it can develop after a common infection like the flu, you should know the warning signs.

Watch for a productive cough

A productive cough with green, yellow or even bloody sputum is the most common pneumonia symptom. (Sputum is coughed up from the lungs, not to be confused with spit or saliva.)

Shortness of breath (may only be on exertion, like climbing the stairs), fever (from mild to very high), shaking, and chills are other common symptoms. You may also experience general fatigue, headache, low energy, loss of appetite, and sharp or stabbing pains in the chest, especially when taking a breath or coughing.

Note a rapid rise in temperature

Another hallmark of bacterial pneumonia is a rapid rise in temperature. With bacterial pneumonia, fever can climb very high — up to 105 degrees F.  Sweating, rapid breathing and pulse rates, bluish discoloration of lips and nail beds, and confusion or delirium, particularly in older patients, often accompany the high fever.

Of course, bacteria signal the body to increase body temperature as an adaptive response. Higher body temperature slows down the rate of reproduction and multiplication of bacteria, which gives the immune system a chance to catch up and overcome the infection by making more white blood cells.

Taking an antibiotic simply has the same effect as a fever — it slows bacterial multiplication. When a bacterial pneumonia reaches this point, the proper short course of two-to-three days of antibiotics can be life-saving. Serious pneumonia also requires supportive care with bedrest, fluid and electrolytes. You may even require hospitalization.

No matter what, your body must still overcome the infection with a healthy immune response. That’s why respiratory infections are so dangerous in people with compromised immune systems such as HIV/AIDS. And taking a drug to lower fever actually slows and interferes with the body’s ability to overcome a bacterial infection.

Viral pneumonia is a different beast

Viral pneumonia is caused by a virus instead of bacteria. It’s symptoms are limited to breathlessness, cough, fever, headache, muscle pain, and weakness similar to influenza. Plus, viral pneumonia generally lacks the higher fever.

It’s important to note antibiotics do not help treat viral pneumonia. Research shows recent drugs developed specifically to treat viral influenza and pneumonia, unfortunately, have largely been a scam, as I uncovered a few years ago.

Key difference between flu and pneumonia

It can be very hard to tell the difference between the flu and bacterial pneumonia with a high fever.

Generally, if your symptoms persist for more than three to five days, with shortness of breath, cough, bloody or yellow-green mucus, severe congestion, and fever higher than 102 degrees, it is time to consult a physician.

In addition, if you have not recently had a cold or flu, but start experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, high fever, or severe congestion, you also need to see a doctor.

Prevention is the best defense

Your best defense against a cold, flu or pneumonia is to prevent the infection in the first place. And if you’re an older adult, your doctor has probably told you that getting the pneumonia vaccine is the best way to do that.

I used to agree that you should get one. But the picture has become cloudier recently.

First of all, there are questionable new CDC recommendations about the pneumonia vaccine. Then there are the vaccine’s serious side effects.

And last but certainly not least, there’s compelling evidence that the vaccine doesn’t actually prevent pneumonia.

I’ll tell you more about the pneumonia vaccine scandal, and how to protect yourself, in the upcoming February issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up now to ensure you don’t miss this important information.)

In the meantime, you can’t go wrong by practicing good hygiene and boosting your immune system. Take a daily B vitamin complex, 250 mg of vitamin C twice per day, and 10,000 IU per day of vitamin D. Also, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

In addition, when you feel a cold or flu coming on, take echinacea, elderberry, and/or goldenseal. I prefer to take these herbal remedies in hot infusions (teas) together with honey and lemon. Also take 50 to 60 mg of zinc twice per day and 200 micrograms selenium (in organic form, such as selenomethionine). Remember, only take these steps when you feel yourself coming down with a cold or flu. They will lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the respiratory infection and help prevent complications.