Gymnast Mary Lou Retton seen here competing at the Olympics.Share on Pinterest
Gymnast Mary Lou Retton has been hospitalized with pneumonia. Jerry Cooke /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
  • Former gymnast Mary Lou Retton has been hospitalized with pneumonia.
  • Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Bacterial pneumonia can occur on its own or after a viral infection such as the flu, common cold or COVID-19.
  • Vaccination against bacteria that cause pneumonia and respiratory viruses can reduce your risk of getting pneumonia and having severe illness.

Former gymnast Mary Lou, 55, is “fighting for her life” after developing pneumonia, according to a fundraiser posted by her daughter.

McKenna Lane Kelley didn’t disclose details of Retton’s illness, but said her mother has a “very rare form of pneumonia and is fighting for her life.”

In an update posted Wednesday on Instagram, Kelly said Retton “continues to fight” in the intensive care unit (ICU), and is getting “incredible medical care.”

Proceeds from the fundraiser will help cover hospital bills for Retton, who is uninsured, according to the fundraising page.

”Most often, pneumonia is not terribly severe and is typically treated in the outpatient setting,” said Dr. Jimmy Johannes, a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif.

“But we do see a lot of patients hospitalized with pneumonia, and unfortunately, we do see some deaths due to pneumonia,” he said.

In 2021, pneumonia resulted in 1.4 million visits to emergency departments and over 41,000 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also one of the most common reasons people are hospitalized.

Here’s what to know about the symptoms of pneumonia, how it’s treated, how to prevent it and when to seek medical care.

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. This condition leads to fluid or pus collecting in the air sacs of the lungs (alveoli).

Bacterial pneumonia can develop by itself, or after a viral infection such as a cold, the flu or COVID-19.

Many types of bacteria can cause pneumonia, including Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila (which causes a pneumonia often called Legionnaires’ disease).

Common causes of viral pneumonia include influenza (seasonal flu) or common cold viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Fungi can also cause pneumonia, especially in people with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of pneumonia can be mild or serious. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, coughing and difficulty breathing. You may also have other symptoms such as extreme tiredness, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Johannes said some patients may have more subtle symptoms that are less typical.

In severe cases, pneumonia can cause complications such as a bacterial infection in the bloodstream, a collection of pus in cavities in the lungs, kidney failure, or respiratory failure.

Respiratory failure is when the lungs can’t get enough oxygen into the blood, or can’t remove enough carbon dioxide from the blood.

People of all ages can develop pneumonia. The severity of illness depends upon the type of germ that causes the infection, your age, and other health problems you may have.

Certain people are at greater risk of severe pneumonia, including people 65 years or older, people with underlying medical conditions such as lung or heart conditions, and immunocompromised people, said Dr. Daniel Shin, an infectious disease specialist at El Camino Health in Mountain View, Calif.

Medical conditions that increase the risk of severe pneumonia include asthma and other lung diseases, heart failure, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease.

In addition, “any condition that reduces the body’s ability to protect the airway — like a prior stroke, or intoxication with drugs or alcohol — can increase the risk for pneumonia,” Johannes told Healthline.

Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcus bacteria, the seasonal flu virus, and the virus that causes COVID-19. Vaccines will not prevent all cases of pneumonia, but may reduce the severity and length of your illness.

“I highly recommend getting a pneumonia vaccine from your doctor or pharmacist [if you are eligible],” Shin told Healthline.

The pneumococcus vaccines are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people 65 year or older, children younger than 5 years, and others with certain risk conditions.

You can take other steps to reduce your risk of getting pneumonia or another respiratory infection, such as frequently washing your hands with soap and water, wearing a high-quality face mask in indoor public spaces, and opening windows to improve ventilation or using an air purifier with a HEPA filter.

Johannes said managing risk factors for pneumonia can also reduce your risk of severe illness. This includes not smoking or drinking heavily, managing your diabetes, heart failure or other conditions, and eating healthy, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep.

With mild cases, people can often recover at home with rest, proper nutrition and fluids, and medicines. Some people may be able to return to their usual activities within 1 to 2 weeks, but others may require more time to recover.

Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. For viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications. Fungal pneumonia may be treated with antifungal medicines.

Over-the-counter medicines can help relieve symptoms such as fever and muscle pain. Talk to your doctor before using a cough or cold medicine for pneumonia.

More serious cases of pneumonia may need to be treated in the hospital or an ICU. This may involve getting intravenous (IV) antibiotics or fluids, receiving supplemental oxygen or being placed on a ventilator.

If you have shortness of breath, a persistent fever, or your other symptoms are worsening, call your doctor or go to the emergency room, especially if you have taken a prescription medicine to treat your pneumonia.

Former gymnast Mary Lou Retton has been hospitalized with pneumonia, her daughter said on a fundraising page. No details of Retton’s illness were provided, but pneumonia is a common condition that can sometimes be severe.

Most cases of pneumonia are mild, but older adults, people with underlying medical conditions and those with weakened immune system have a higher risk of severe pneumonia.

Vaccines against the pneumococcus bacteria, the seasonal flu virus, and the virus that causes COVID-19 can reduce your risk of severe pneumonia. Managing underlying medical conditions, and having healthy lifestyle behaviors can also reduce your risk.