The Causes of Pneumonia: Five Surprising Facts Everyone Should Know
The lesser-known causes of pneumonia involve some unexpected factors that go beyond the usual suspects.
Did you know that, together with the flu, pneumonia is a top cause of death in the United States? It’s a fact, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Part of what makes pneumonia so lethal is that it isn’t just one disease; it’s a general term for infections in the lung. It puts hundreds of thousands of Americans in the hospital every year, and more than 45,000—mostly people over age 65—die from the illness annually. The Pneumococcus bacterium and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae are two of the most common causes, but they are not the only ones.
In this article, we will share some surprising causes of pneumonia, along with helpful information about this respiratory health condition so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus. causing cough with phlegm, fever, chills, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia. The illness can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and those with existing health problems or weakened immune systems. The pneumococcal vaccine is an important immunization that helps protect children and adults from various types of pneumococcal bacteria.
Five Little-Known Causes of Pneumonia
1. Poor oral hygiene
Daily brushing and flossing are good for much more than just a set of pearly whites. Poor oral hygiene is associated with an increased risk of pneumonia because an unhealthy mouth contains more bacteria. The germs hang on drops of saliva that are inhaled and enter the lungs. And while we all have some bacteria in the lungs, mechanisms like cilia and mucus are there to clear it out. When a massive number of bacteria enter the lungs, however, it’s much harder for the built-in mechanisms to fully do their jobs, which increases the risk of pneumonia. Make proper daily oral hygiene a priority to reduce your odds of contracting it.
2. Swallowing difficulties
People with Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating brain condition that impairs movement, die of pneumonia more than any other cause. That’s because the muscles that move food and liquid from the mouth down the throat and into the stomach don’t work properly, a condition known as dysphagia. This makes it easier for foreign particles like food or saliva to end up in the lungs instead of the stomach. The bacteria that’s on these foreign particles can then cause pneumonia. Anyone who has dysphagia is at increased risk for pneumonia, including those with dementia, cerebral palsy, gastroesophageal reflux disease, stroke, certain head and neck cancers, and spinal cord injury.
Vomiting can cause pneumonia or pneumonitis, an inflamed lung, which is similar to pneumonia. Pneumonitis occurs when an irritant is inhaled into the lungs. Gastric acid is the most common cause, and the most common reason for gastric acid in the lungs is throwing up. During a vomiting event, the stomach contents come up and often get into the lungs. This very acidic fluid in the lungs can cause an intense inflammatory response. Mild cases usually go away quickly, but more serious bouts may require oxygen therapy and can even cause fatal respiratory failure.
4. Contaminated water
Bacteria love warm, wet places like large, poorly maintained building water systems. They could be contaminated by the Legionella bacterium, which causes a form of pneumonia called Legionnaire’s disease. Other possible sources of Legionella include:
- Hot tubs
- Cooling towers for large commercial air conditioning systems
- Commercial or large residential water heaters
Legionnaires’ is contracted by inhaling contaminated water droplets. It is fatal in about 10% of cases and is more lethal for smokers, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
5. Fungal spores
It isn’t just bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia. Less commonly, fungi can also cause a lung infection. People who develop fungal pneumonia usually have weak immune systems. This includes organ transplant recipients, alcoholics, and people with diabetes, for example. Fungi are found in soil, mold, and animal droppings, and anyone who works in or around these environments regularly may be at risk of inhaling a mass of fungal spores. The body can often clear these fungi on its own. In more serious cases, however, antifungal medications may be needed.
From our daily habits to environmental factors, our respiratory health is intertwined with many elements. By staying informed and adopting preventive measures, we can better safeguard ourselves and our loved ones from the unexpected causes of pneumonia.
Staying healthy gets easier when you have the right information. If you need additional resources or if you have questions about pneumonia and how to avoid it, we are here to help. Please reach out to our caring professionals anytime.
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