First, lets catch up on some current events. The other day, Democratic Presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, collapsed which was apparently due to a pneumonia diagnosis earlier this week. But, it’s just an infection that will go away with some antibiotics, right? Wrong. Pneumonia can actually be life threating to young children and the elderly; and since Clinton is 68 years old, this diagnosis definitely matters.
Pneumonia is primarily caused by bacteria but can also arise from viruses, fungi, and parasites. Note that pneumonia is not actually caused from being out in the rain. This is a widespread misconception about the infection. That correlation comes from the fact that being in situations that increase your chances of catching a virus or cold also increase your chance of getting pneumonia since those (colds and viruses) can put stress on your lungs and create a better environment for pneumonia germs to infect. Once infected, the air sacks in your lungs called alveoli fill up with fluid and make it increasingly difficult to breathe. This is why pneumonia is accompanied by a long-lasting, gross-sounding cough. But, that’s not all. You’ll also be visited by a high fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea.
I know what you’re thinking… How do we know the difference when those symptoms sound like every other infection? Bad news: you pretty much don’t…until you do. Let me explain. I was lucky enough to catch this last year at good ‘ole State. In my particular case, I thought I just had the usual Penn State plague until my fever reached 103 and I hadn’t eaten in three days. The biggest difference between pneumonia and every other infection is the dramatic toll it takes on your body. If you can’t walk to class because breathing has become super difficult and staying awake for more than two hours is equivalent to running a marathon, you might have pneumonia. Don’t panic though, we’re young and healthy and can beat this infection with the help of some antibiotics. But, if you recall earlier in this post I claimed that pneumonia is more than something treated with some medicine and I wasn’t lying, just building suspense. In our case, don’t sweat it too much. Get the necessary medical attention and you’ll be alright. But, what about Secretary Clinton? She’s a more interesting case.
To understand how pneumonia can be deadly, let’s take a closer look at what’s actual;y happening when you get it.
When compared side by side with a normal lung in an x-ray, it is easy to see why this is so problematic. With so much fluid build up, it’s hard to imagine that breathing would even be possible. In younger people, the lungs rarely ever get this bad since their immune systems are better at fighting the infection, even before the use of antibiotics. The reason this is such a problem in elderly people is simply that they do not have those strong immune systems anymore and often have other health issues tampering with their treatment of the infection. The real kicker here though, is that pneumonia decreases your immune system even more, leaving you in a vulnerable state. Under these conditions, it is easier for the pneumonia to spread to both lungs and throughout the body. Without treatment, this will drastically decrease the oxygen levels in your blood and can ultimately cause death. While this is an extreme case, it is common that pneumonia can lead to death in the elderly either this way or by allowing other health issues to take center stage while pneumonia keeps weakening the immune system from fighting the other issues.
So, should we be concerned that one of our Presidential nominees has been diagnosed with such an infection? Yes. But, is this definitely the end? Most likely no. While pneumonia is very serious and can be deadly, it usually doesn’t work alone in cases with fatal outcomes. This means that we will all just have to turn on the news and see what happens in the coming days/ weeks. And now that we all know a little more about pneumonia, we’ll actually understand what they’re talking about on the news.
Although we’re at an awesome age where our bodies can fight some tough stuff, you still do not want to catch pneumonia (trust me on this one). You can find some ways to prevent pneumonia here.
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