For people with chronic lung problems, including COPD sufferers, pneumonia can quickly become life-threatening. Pneumonia inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs, and these sacs may fill with fluid or pus. Several organisms can cause pneumonia, including viruses, bacteria, and even fungi.
If you seem to be developing what seems like a common cold, pay attention to these signs that you could actually have pneumonia:
- Fever, sweating, chills
- Lower than normal body temperature
- Sudden changes in mental awareness
- Coughing – which may or may not produce phlegm
- Chest pain when you breathe or cough
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Even if the signs are mild and you think you have just a cold or flu, if they last longer than normal for these conditions, contact your doctor. Typically pneumonia can be treated with medication, but complications can develop, especially if you’re in a high-risk group. These complications include:
- Bacteremia, or bacteria in the bloodstream. This can spread the infection to other organs in the body.
- Lung abscess, or pus that forms in a cavity in the lung. If this happens, you’ll likely be treated with antibiotics, but surgery or drainage with a needle or tube placed into the abscess might be needed in order to remove the pus.
- Pleural effusion, or fluid build-up around your lungs. If this fluid becomes infected, it might need to be removed with surgery or drained through a chest tube.
- Difficulty breathing. If you already have COPD and you then develop pneumonia, you might be unable to breathe in enough oxygen, requiring you to be hospitalized and use a ventilator, or breathing machine, while you fight the disease.
If you think you may have symptoms of pneumonia, the most important first step is to seek medical attention. Your doctor can take steps likely to prevent pneumonia from worsening…or developing in the first place.