Pneumonia is a common but often severe respiratory infection. According to the American Thoracic Society, in the United States alone, around 1 million adults are hospitalized with pneumonia every year, and around 50,000 adults die from it.

Diabetes is a chronic condition with a range of symptoms to manage. It can also weaken your immune system and leave you at greater risk of serious infections such as pneumonia.

High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes can also make it harder for your body to fight pneumonia once it develops. This can lead to more severe cases of pneumonia and increased complications, including organ damage, respiratory failure, and even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone over 2 years old with diabetes gets a pneumonia shot to reduce this risk. Learn more about the connection between diabetes and pneumonia.

Adults with chronic conditions such as diabetes have an increased risk of developing pneumonia. This is because diabetes weakens your immune system. When you have diabetes, high blood sugar levels make it difficult for your white blood cells to fight infections.

Diabetes can also negatively affect the immune system by impairing your circulation and your nerves. This puts you at a higher risk of infections, including pneumonia. It also makes it harder for your body to fight infections when they develop.

Diabetes also increases risk of more severe cases of pneumonia

In addition to having an increased risk of pneumonia, people with diabetes have an increased risk of pneumonia cases that are severe or even fatal. The CDC reports that people with diabetes are 3 times more likely to die of the flu or pneumonia.

Pneumonia can be mild or severe. However, pneumonia that doesn‘t get better without treatment can be very dangerous and lead to serious complications. Symptoms of pneumonia include:

It doesn‘t matter which type of diabetes you have. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes weaken your immune system. This means that either type increases your risk of pneumonia and other infections.

Diabetes increases your risk of pneumonia. However, there are steps you can take to lower your risk. These include:

  • Getting the pneumonia shot. The CDC recommends a pneumonia shot for anyone over the age of 2 with diabetes. They also recommend two more doses after you turn 65. Talk with a medical professional about what’s best for you.
  • Getting a flu shot. Pneumonia sometimes develops as a complication of the flu. That’s why it’s a good idea to get an annual flu shot, even if you’ve already had a pneumonia shot.
  • Consider quitting smoking if you smoke. Smoking weakens your lungs and increases your risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Quitting can help you prevent infection.
  • Managing your diabetes. Working to keep your blood sugar under control can help strengthen your immune system.
  • Maintaining overall health. Eating a balanced diet and staying active can help your body fight off infection.
  • Washing your hands. Practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands frequently can help you avoid pneumonia and other infections.

People with diabetes are at risk of more severe cases of pneumonia. A 2015 review found links between diabetes and longer hospital stays, increased complications, and a higher risk of death from pneumonia. Higher blood sugar levels during a pneumonia infection increase these risks.

Additionally, a 2016 study suggests that people with diabetes have a decreased 1-year survival rate following hospitalization for pneumonia infection.

This doesn‘t mean that developing pneumonia when you have diabetes is always serious. However, it does mean that it’s important to seek medical care as soon as possible if you have diabetes and develop any pneumonia symptoms. Early treatment can significantly improve the outlook for people with diabetes who develop pneumonia.

Your recovery from pneumonia will depend on the type and severity of your pneumonia. Some people will respond to at-home treatment quickly and feel better in a week or two. Other people will need significant medical intervention at a hospital and might have lingering fatigue even after the infection clears.

People with diabetes might need to be monitored closely after recovering from pneumonia to make sure there are no lasting complications.

Not everyone who has diabetes and develops pneumonia will have complications. Because pneumonia is more likely to be severe for people with diabetes, complications are also more likely.

Complications of pneumonia for people with diabetes might include:

  • Lung abscesses. A lung abscess is a cavity of pus inside your lung that needs to be treated by an antibiotic, drainage, or surgery.
  • Pleural effusion. Fluid around your lungs, in the membranes that line your lungs, and inside of your rib cage is called pleural effusion. This fluid can become infected and will need to be drained.
  • Impaired breathing. Severe pneumonia can make it difficult to get enough air when you breathe. You might need to use a ventilator.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is a medical emergency. It occurs when there’s a buildup of fluid in the small air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. People ARDS often develop respiratory failure and are unable to breathe on their own.
  • Bloodstream infection. An infection in your bloodstream known as bacteremia can spread and cause low blood pressure and septic shock. In severe cases, it can lead to organ failure.
  • Organ damage. A lack of oxygen in your body can damage the kidneys, heart, and liver. Increased kidney damage is especially likely in people with diabetes.
  • Death. Severe pneumonia can be fatal.

Diabetes increases your risk of pneumonia. It can also make it harder to fight off the infection once it develops. People with diabetes who develop pneumonia are more likely to spend more time in the hospital and have more severe symptoms, increased complications, and more fatal cases.

You can take steps to reduce your chances of getting pneumonia. A great way to start is by getting a pneumonia shot. Talk with a medical professional about other lifestyle steps, such as diet, diabetes management, smoking cessation, and more, that might also help lower your chance of getting pneumonia.

Contact a medical professional right away if you develop any symptoms you suspect might be pneumonia.