Pneumonia occurs when the lungs become infected and the air sacs fill with fluid. It is often overlooked, even though it kills more people each year than influenza. In fact, worldwide, 18 percent of deaths among children under five are caused by pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing, headache, nausea, vomiting, fever and sweating, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi in the atmosphere. It can also be caused by inhaling food or saliva into the lungs—the gag reflex usually prevents this foreign matter from reaching the lungs, but if it is disturbed in some way, pneumonia can result. The risk of pneumonia can be reduced by avoiding indoor pollution. This includes cigarette smoke, cooking fumes, mold, and dust.
Researchers recently found evidence that sleep apnea may be a risk factor for pneumonia. Sleep apnea is a chronic condition in which people briefly stop breathing during sleep. People who are overweight, people who use sedatives, smokers, people with thick necks, people over 60, and men are all at risk for sleep apnea. In the study, sleep apnea patients were found to be 20 percent more likely to develop pneumonia. Some of the risk factors for apnea are themselves risk factors for pneumonia, and people with apnea often also have diabetes, which also makes incidents of pneumonia more likely. Furthermore, people with sleep apnea are more at rick of inhaling fluid from the throat into the lungs, which can contribute to the development of pneumonia.
Nearly a million Americans get pneumonia each year, but vaccination can help lower this number. Nowadays most children in the Unites States are given the DTaP vaccine, which in addition to covering the namesake diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, often also provides protection against pneumonia. If it’s not certain, or for older folks, influenza vaccines often prevent pneumonia as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend that people over 65 get vaccinated against pneumonia specifically. In particular, seniors are urged to get a combination of two different vaccines, with the newer of the two filling in some of the gaps in the protection provided by the single vaccine previously recommended.