Pneumonia and COPD: Everything You Need to Know to Be Prepared

Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Winter and cold season are right around the corner, and it's important if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that you avoid pneumonia and remain healthy this season.


COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and pneumonia is the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. Contracting pneumonia could be deadly for someone with COPD. Check out the following information to stay healthy this upcoming fall and winter!


Who is most at risk for developing pneumonia?




Young children, cigarette smokers, and adults over the age of 65 with certain medical issues, including COPD, are at the highest risk of developing pneumonia.


How do you contract pneumonia?


Pneumonia is most normally caused by the exchange of bacteria, viruses, and on occasion, but less commonly, fungi. Often those individuals who contract pneumonia due to a fungi struggle with suppressed immune systems.


Many of these viruses and bacteria exchanges are preventable with a plethora of helpful vaccines such as vaccinations for: 

  • Influenza
  • Pneumococcus
  • Measles
  • Pertissis, or Whooping Cough
  • Haemophlilus influenza type b (Hib)


How do I know if I have pneumonia?

COPD and pneumonia are linked in a lot of ways. 

Symptoms of pneumonia appear very similar to symptoms of COPD. It is extremely imperative that if you struggle with COPD you are aware of the symptoms of pneumonia.


Such symptoms include:

  • A fever over 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Shaking chills
  • Changes in breathing patterns (shortness of breath or more rapid breathing)
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • A cough with an increased amount of sputum (mucus)
  • A cough with a change in color of sputum (mucus)
  • More rapid heart rate
  • Pain in one area of the chest from deep breaths


As you can see, if you have COPD, many symptoms of pneumonia look similar to those of COPD. Oftentimes people with COPD aren't sure if the symptoms they are showing are from pneumonia or worsening or exacerbated COPD.


Unfortunately, many individuals will wait to seek treatment which can be fatal or lead to longer hospitalizations. If your COPD symptoms change slightly or worsen, contact your doctor immediately. This preventative action could stop the pneumonia in its early stages and thwart further health complications and even death.




What are some ways I can avoid pneumonia?

Your doctor can have you tested for pneumonia. 

There are several ways you can avoid pneumonia when you suffer from COPD. The following list consists of comprehensive methods you can carefully apply to avoid contracting pneumonia:


  • Be sure to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider for your regularly schedule appointment so you both can keep a close eye on your COPD and if it potentially worsens.

  • Every year, get a flu shot at your local pharmacy or grocery store. They can administer flu shots easily and often for free.

  • Check with your doctor or healthcare provider to see if you are due for a pneumonia shot. A pneumonia shot can help considerably reduce one's risk of developing pneumonia.

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water and carry hand sanitizer with you if you don't have regular access to soap and water throughout your day.

  • Be sure to especially avoid crowds during cold and flu season.

  • When you are in public areas and crowded spaces, avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose to prevent the spread of germs throughout entire body.

  • Make sure to get adequate sleep. When the body is well rested, you are at a lower risk of getting sick. Aim for at least 7-8 hours per night.

  • Regular exercise can benefit your body in multiple ways, especially in boosting your immune system, which can help in avoiding pneumonia.

  • Eating a healthy diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables is beneficial in avoiding infection.

  • Don't smoke. If you haven't already, work on quitting. Smoking makes it much harder for your lungs to ward off infections like pneumonia. Smoking may also impact one's awareness of worsening COPD symptoms that may in fact be pneumonia.


Complications with your COPD do arise if you develop pneumonia. Long term and permanent damage may occur; however, early treatment can aid in decreasing these potential outcomes. It is imperative that you know how pneumonia can affect your lungs.


Indeed, inflammation from pneumonia can limit airflow throughout the lungs which can further damage lungs; thus, if you have COPD and pneumonia you are at a notably greater risk of respiratory failure. Respiratory failure is a response from the body it isn't obtaining enough oxygen or expelling enough carbon dioxide.


A deprivation in oxygen, or what is known as hypoxia, can lead to additional complications for individuals diagnosed with COPD such as:

  • Damage to kidneys
  • Various cardiovascular issues including stroke and heart attack
  • Irreversible brain damage




So how is pneumonia treated in patients with COPD?

Pneumonia can be treated in a number of ways.

  • To begin, the patient with symptoms of pneumonia and/or worsening COPD will be admitted immediately to a hospital

  • Your doctor may order chest-x-rays, CT scans, blood work, and/or may take a sputum (mucus) sample in order to diagnose the patient properly.

  • A doctor may prescribe the patient antibiotics which are administered intravenously at the hospital. Added antibiotics may also be prescribed for you to take at home.

  • A doctor may prescribe glucocorticoids, a medication taken via an inhaler, a pill, or an injection. This medication helps to reduce inflammation in the lungs, thus assisting your breathing.

  • A doctor may prescribe other medications in nebulizers and/or inhalers to help you breathe better and manage their own COPD symptoms.

  • Supplemental oxygen and ventilators may also be prescribed for you to utilize in order to increase your body's oxygen flow.


Symptomatic awareness and precautions can help you treat and avoid contracting pneumonia. With early detection of pneumonia, you will experience fewer complications and hopeful outcomes if diagnosed with pneumonia.


Tune into your body and keep a close eye on your COPD symptoms as the temperature drops and the weather transitions towards winter. Use some of the aforementioned prevention methods to evade pneumonia as cold and flu season approaches! As always, keep in contact with a trusted doctor or healthcare provider as you continue to monitor your COPD.

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