Legendary singer Manna Dey passed away today at the age of 94 and media reports suggest that he had suffering from a lung infection for a few months. Is a lung infection something that only afflicts the elderly or smokers or can anyone suffer from it? Here are six things you should know about chest infections:
What is a lung infection?
A lung infection is a condition where the lungs get infected with either a virus or bacteria. It causes a lot of discomfort because as it progresses the patient is unable to breathe efficiently, leading to a lack of oxygen to the other organs in the body. Once the condition progress and becomes severe, a patient is more likely to suffer from other opportunistic infections and organ failure as well.
1. There are two main types of infections
When it comes to lung infections there are a number of things that can go wrong. The condition is divided into two broad groups – acute bronchitis and pneumonia. Acute bronchitis is where the person suffers from the disease for a short period of time and it subsides after some time. Pneumonia is the more severe form of chest infections, and can be fatal for some people. It’s where the tiny air sacs of the lungs get inflamed because of an infection and fluid build up in some cases.
2. The symptoms of both the types of infections are similar
The symptoms of a lung infection are high fever (which is an indication of an infection), feeling breathless, a cough with phlegm, bloodstained sputum, sharp pain in the chest, and in some severe cases, dizziness and confusion. The symptoms are very similar for both bronchitis and pneumonia. They do tend to overlap and are usually very difficult to discern. The one distinction between the two is that in the case of pneumonia, the symptoms are much more severe.
3. Diagnosis is simple
When it comes to the diagnosis a doctor will first perform a physical exam where he/she will check for lung function either by listening to the sound of the patient’s breathing or by using a lung function test. The other diagnostic tests include a chest X-ray and sputum sample (done to find out what organism is causing the infection). If all else fails or if the origin of the disease is untraceable, a doctor may prescribe a lung biopsy (where a small portion of the lung is taken for testing) or a bronchoscopy (where a tiny camera is passed into the lungs through the mouth so that the doctor can get a better look at the cause of the infection). (Read: What are Lung Function Tests?)
4. Preventing an infection is always better than fighting it
Most doctors will say that preventing a disease is the best way to treat it. The same applies to lung infections. Some of the most effective methods include maintaining good hygiene. You can do this by keeping your surroundings clean, washing your hands well and avoiding crowded places if one you suffer from low immunity and avoiding smoking. Most people don’t realise that smoking affects the lungs, reduces immunity and makes one more prone to infections. You should also get proper vaccines to prevent grave infections like pneumonia or influenza, eat a healthy diet to keep you fit and boost your immunity. You should also exercise regularly, get regular health checkups especially if you are over the age of 65 and avoid polluted places or those areas that have a lot of dust. (Read: Immunity-boosting foods that are available in India and easy on the pocket!)
5. Visit a doctor as soon as you see the first sign of a lung infection
Most people tend to ignore a cough and fever and treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medications. But, it is important to understand that an infection can lead to serious complications like pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome (where the infection and toxins spread throughout the body) and in some cases even sepsis if not treated with the right medications at the right time. Therefore it is important that one visit a doctor as soon as they notice the first signs of an infection. Treatment is always much simpler in the early stages.
6. The prognosis is good but can be fatal for the elderly
In the case of chest infections, treatment usually is simple in the early stages. It involves the administration of antibiotics and other drugs to help deal with the symptoms. According to the American Lung Association, it takes about ten days for a minor lung infection to clear up. But in the case of a more severe infection it may need many months to heal.
Chest infections are more dangerous for the elderly because they are less capable of fighting off infections. Other factors include the gradual degradation of the body with age and other co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, etc. making their treatment more complex and risky. Therefore it is recommended by doctors that people over the age of 65 take special care of their health and more importantly their lungs, without which you won’t be able to breathe, ergo live!
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