How do I recognize pneumonia?

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Cough can be a symptom of pneumonia

13.02.2014 Coughing does not always have to be a sign of illness, but is basically a completely normal and important protective mechanism for the body, through which the respiratory tract is freed of "unpleasant substances" such as mucus or dust. However, cough can also be a symptom of illnesses such as a cold, bronchitis or whooping cough. In more severe cases, pneumonia (pneumonia) may also be present, which can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system. Therefore, a doctor should be consulted immediately at the first signs.

Pneumonia is mostly caused by bacteria.In pneumonia, the lung tissue is acute or chronically inflamed, which in most cases is caused by an infection with bacteria (especially pneumococci), less often also by viruses, fungi, pollutants, allergic diseases or radiation exposure . The tricky thing about pneumonia is that it often does not manifest itself through typical symptoms. In many cases, there are “classic symptoms” such as fever, dry cough and chest pain, but in other cases, in addition to the cough, only non-specific symptoms such as fatigue or loss of appetite occur. As a result, the infectious disease is often only recognized late, but this is a real danger, because a delayed pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure, kidney failure, heart problems or severe sepsis (blood poisoning).

At the first signs immediately to the doctor! Accordingly, a doctor should be consulted immediately at the first signs of pneumonia, which applies in particular to children and the elderly as well as to people with underlying diseases of the lungs (e.g. cystic fibrosis) or a general immune system deficiency (e.g. HIV infection, cancer, diabetes). Because with these "risk groups" the infectious disease has a particularly easy game due to the not yet developed or weakened immune system - therefore usually a vaccination against pneumococci is recommended for prevention. There are also a number of other factors or events that increase the risk of pneumonia, such as shallow, restricted breathing due to prolonged bed rest, smoking tobacco, pulmonary embolism or the aspiration or penetration of food pulp and stomach acid into the trachea.

Special breathing exercises as well as rest and plenty of fluids to support the healing process "But how do I know whether my cough could be signs of pneumonia?" - This question can not always be answered clearly due to the sometimes unspecific symptoms. Therefore, in any case, if you have a long-lasting cough, chest pain or breathing pain, you should always consult a doctor immediately to clarify the cause of the symptoms. An X-ray examination can identify possible signs of inflammation in the form of "shadowing", further findings provide laboratory examinations and a blood count, which provides an indication of whether there is inflammation in the body. In addition, the type of pathogen can be determined by this, because in the case of pneumonia caused by bacteria, for example, the number of white blood cells (leukocytes) is usually noticeably increased. If bacterial pneumonia is actually present, it is usually treated with antibiotics, which means that the disease usually heals after two to three weeks. In addition to this, it is advisable to take as much rest as possible as part of the "self-therapy", to drink a lot (water, tea) and to perform special breathing exercises that can make breathing in and out easier.

Strengthening the immune system to prevent pneumonia In addition, preventive measures can be taken to reduce the risk of pneumonia. Above all, this includes an intact immune system, which is supported by regular physical activity, lots of fresh air, sufficient sleep and a healthy, balanced diet. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking should generally be avoided, as this increases the risk of developing bacterial infections - which include not only pneumonia, but also the so-called "legionnaires' disease" and tuberculosis. “Smoking promotes bacterial infections in several ways. At first, cigarette smoke appears to affect the growth of certain bacteria, which changes the microbiological composition in different tissues. Since naturally occurring bacteria are prevented from growing, potentially harmful species can reproduce better, ”says the German Cancer Research Center (dkfz) in Heidelberg. According to this, bacterial infections in smokers would often be more serious than in non-smokers and even more often lead to death, "since the performance of the immune system is reduced because the ingredients of tobacco smoke damage the cells of the innate and acquired immune systems." (No)

Photo credit: Dieter Schütz /

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