What Is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe normally. COPD is often the result of many years of smoking cigarettes, although sometimes it can be caused by other lung irritants. Serious and even life-threatening complications can arise from COPD, one of which is pneumonia.

What Is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can strike at any age. It’s different from other respiratory infections in that pneumonia is not one single disease. It actually describes about 30 types of infections, which could be caused by a number of viruses, bacteria, inhaled particles or liquids, or even fungi. Pneumonia is dangerous, because it greatly reduces the amount of oxygen in the body. Without oxygen, cells can quickly begin to die. Life-threatening complications can develop rapidly in COPD patients, and can be fatal if not treated.

People with COPD and other chronic lung conditions have an increased risk of developing pneumonia. This is because these infections are more common when the lungs are already weakened, when a person’s immune system isn’t working properly, or when the body is less able to filter viruses and bacteria out of the air.

How Do You Know if You Have Pneumonia?

Signs of pneumonia can include:

  • shortness of breath that seems to get worse
  • a sudden inability to catch a breath
  • feeling congested for more than a few days
  • coughing up dark yellow or green mucus (worse than usual)
  • fever
  • chills
  • ongoing fatigue 

If you think you may have pneumonia, it’s very important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out what’s going on.

In order to determine if pneumonia is causing your symptoms, the doctor will listen to your chest through a stethoscope, to listen for any crackling sounds when you breathe. They may also tap on your chest to listen for other unusual noises.

How It’s Treated

Treatment of pneumonia depends on its cause. If pneumonia is suspected, the doctor may order a chest X-ray, CT scan, blood tests, a culture of your mucus, or other tests to help determine the location and cause of the infection.

If it is due to a bacterial infection, then antibiotics will likely be the first treatment. It is crucial to take antibiotics exactly as directed, and to take all of them, even if you are feeling better. Stopping a course of antibiotics early can allow the bacteria to come back stronger than ever.

If it’s viral pneumonia, then there may be effective antiviral medications. Your doctor may prescribe an inhaled or oral steroid, regardless of the pneumonia’s cause. Alternately you may simply need to use your regular inhaler more often.

If pneumonia is not caught early, it can result in acute respiratory failure. Treatment must be immediate in order to save the lungs from permanent damage. Pneumonia treatment may include a stay in an intensive care unit. A ventilator will be used to speed oxygen to deprived cells, and to eliminate excess carbon dioxide.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you have COPD, doing your best to prevent pneumonia is one way to live better. An easy choice is getting an annual pneumonia vaccine. This vaccine protects against a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia. This type of bacteria causes a pneumonia that is most common in the elderly and those with chronic lung disease.

A yearly flu vaccine is another easy prevention measure. Because illnesses like influenza can quickly lead to pneumonia in patients with COPD, preventing the flu can keep you healthy in more ways than one.

Keep yourself as healthy as possible day to day by washing your hands often, and staying away from sick friends and family members. It’s okay to ask visitors to come back another time if you notice any symptoms of illness. Always remember that you are your own first line of defense.