Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / VirusesRespiratory

What are the symptoms of pneumonia in older adults?

The inflammation of the tissue in the lungs is called pneumonia. Usually, it happens due to an infection. Due to the higher risk of developing complications, pneumonia in people aged 65 or older may become dangerous.

Older adults have a greater risk of contracting a significant pneumonia-related disease, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). This is because it makes the immune system less capable of battling the disease.

The National Health Service ( NHS) of the United Kingdom says it can rapidly grow over 1-2 days or steadily grow over many days.

In more depth, this article discusses pneumonia in older adults, including when to seek emergency assistance, symptoms, recovery, and risk factors.

Symptoms

Old man having running nose

Typical signs of pneumonia, according to a 2017 study, include:

  • a cough, which may be dry, or produce phlegm
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • chest pain

However, the analysis notes that, in older adults, these typical signs are vague and may not be fully present.

The ALA reports that there might be less and milder signs and even a lower than normal temperature in older adults.

Pneumonia symptoms in older adults can include:

  • poor coordination, which may cause falls
  • sudden change in day-to-day functioning
  • reduced appetite
  • incontinence
  • confusion
  • delirium

Bacterial pneumonia

The most common form of the condition is bacterial pneumonia which can be more severe.

The ALA states that, unexpectedly or gradually, symptoms can develop. Such signs include:

  • a fever that can reach high temperatures, such as 105°F
  • sweating
  • increased breathing and pulse rate
  • bluish lips and nailbeds
  • confusion

Viral pneumonia

ALA reports that the symptoms of viral pneumonia develop over a period of several days. An individual may initially experience:

  • fever
  • dry cough
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • muscle weakness

After a day or two, symptoms worsen, and a person may experience:

  • increased coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • muscle pain
  • high fever
  • blue lips

When to seek emergency care and medical help

For older adults, pneumonia may rapidly become serious.

If an individual believes that he or an older relative might have pneumonia, they should seek medical advice immediately.

An older adult may need to go to the hospital if the symptoms are serious or do not change.

Individuals should call emergency services right away if they experience:

  • breathing difficulties
  • a blue face or lips
  • coughing up blood
  • chest pain
  • a high fever
  • severe cough with mucus
  • sweating and feeling cold, with paler, discolored or blotchy skin
  • fainting or collapsing
  • drowsiness or confusion
  • a rash that does not fade after rolling a glass over it

Treatment

In most cases, according to the ALA, individuals with pneumonia will treat their symptoms at home by:

  • taking aspirin to help reduce a fever
  • drinking plenty of fluids, both cold and warm
  • using a humidifier or take a hot bath
  • avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke
  • getting plenty of rest

Unless a physician advises this course of action, a person should not take cough medicine.

If the cause of pneumonia is bacterial, antibiotics will be administered by a physician. Even if they feel better, people must complete the entire course of antibiotics, as stopping early could cause the infection again.

They may need oxygen treatment, as well as an intravenous ( IV) drip to obtain fluids if an older adult needs hospitalization due to pneumonia.

Recovery

Pneumonia recovery in older adults can be a long process. And though some recover in 6 weeks, it can take as long as 12 weeks for others, according to one 2017 report.

During recovery, it is important to rest for as long as possible.

The British Lung Foundation suggests the following recovery timeline:

Length of timeWhat to expect
1 weekThe fever should have resolved.
4 weeksThe chest will feel better, and a person will produce less mucus.
6 weeksA person will cough less often and find it easier to breathe.
3 monthsMost symptoms should have gone, although people might still feel fatigue.
6 monthsA person may feel back to normal.

Prevention

In order to prevent pneumonia, there is no sure way. People can, however, help decrease their chances of developing the condition by using the following:

  • Hand hygiene: A person should regularly wash their hands to remove any germs.
  • Quit smoking: systematic review of tobacco smoking on developing pneumonia in the community highlights a strong association between them. This suggests those who smoke are at higher risk of the condition.

Vaccinations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) reports that there are two vaccines available for individuals over the age of 65: the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23) and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13).

The CDC suggests that the PPSV223 shot be received by all adults aged 65 or over.

The PCV13 shot is suitable for those aged 65 or older, who have:

  • a cochlear implant
  • cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • conditions that weaken the immune system

It is important to remember that, at the same time , people can not get both shots.

Get the PCV13 shot first if a healthcare professional suggests having both. A doctor can advise when to return for the second shot.

Causes and risk factors

Often, after a stay in the hospital, older adults may develop pneumonia. A healthcare professional can refer to it as hospital-acquired pneumonia in these instances.

In the community, however, individuals may also catch pneumonia. People may refer to this as community-acquired pneumonia.

Pneumonia causes include:

  • Bacteria: Pneumococcal pneumonia is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. It can develop after a person has a viral cold or the flu.
  • Viruses: The influenza virus is a common cause of viral pneumonia. The virus enters the lungs and multiplies.
  • Fungi: Fungal pneumonia occurs when people expose themselves to fungi from bird droppings or contaminated soil.

As well as age, other risk factors of pneumonia include:

  • smoking
  • previous stroke
  • neurological disorders, such as dementiaepilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease
  • dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing
  • history of respiratory disease
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • chronic liver disease

Complications

There is a greater risk for older adults to develop complications from pneumonia. Examples of these include:

  • Pleurisy: A condition where the pleura becomes inflamed. The pleura are the two large layers of tissue that separate the lungs from the chest wall. Pleurisy can cause respiratory failure.
  • Lung abscess: Where tissue on the lung dies and pus develops in the resulting space. This is a rare complication and may occur in people who have a history of alcohol misuse or pre-existing serious illnesses.
  • Sepsis: In relation to pneumonia, the infection in the lungs may trigger a potentially life threatening immune response in other parts of the body.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS): A severe form of respiratory failure.

Summary

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs due to viral , bacterial, or fungal infections that may occur.

Older adults have a greater risk of developing serious pneumonia complications. If a person believes that he or an older adult has pneumonia, urgent medical assistance should be obtained.

This increases the likelihood of success if treatment begins early and decreases the risk of complications.

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