Can You Prevent Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs caused by bacteria, a virus, or, less often, a fungus.

The air sacs in your lungs swell and can fill with fluid or pus, which can make it difficult for you to breathe and harder for your body to get the oxygen it needs.

Pneumonia can also cause other illnesses or complications that can be serious. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to stay healthy and prevent yourself and your family from getting pneumonia in the first place.

How can you do that?

Get Vaccinated

There are two vaccines that can protect you from Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, one of the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia.

Children under the age of 2 and people over the age of 65 should get vaccinated. You also should be vaccinated between these ages if:

  • You smoke
  • You have a condition that makes your immune system not work as well
  • You have certain long-term health conditions

Talk with your doctor or pediatrician about which of the two vaccines is best for you.

Pneumonia can also be caused by other infections, such as the flu. In fact, the flu is one of the most common causes of pneumonia. So, with very rare exceptions, it’s important to get a flu vaccine each year once you reach 6 months old.

This is especially important for children under the age of 5 or adults 65 and older (and anyone who spends time with them). That’s because people in these age groups are more likely to get pneumonia from the flu. They also have a higher chance of complications once they get pneumonia.

Parents should also make sure that children under the age of 5 have had the Hib vaccine, which prevents Haemophilus influenzae, another cause of pneumonia.

If your child was born early or has certain medical problems, like a heart or lung condition, your doctor may talk with you about palivizumab shots. This can prevent serious respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that can lead to pneumonia.

Because other infections like measles and pertussis (whooping cough) can cause pneumonia, it’s important to talk with your doctor to make sure that everyone in your family is current on their vaccines.

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Wash Your Hands

One of the best ways to keep yourself healthy and avoid getting sick is to wash your hands regularly. Use warm water and soap, and get a good lather going for at least 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean towel, or allow your hands to air dry.

Quit Smoking

Smoking hurts your lungs and makes it harder for them to fight off infections like pneumonia. Smokers are also at greater risk of life-threatening pneumonia and the other illnesses that can come from it.

Quitting smoking will help your lungs become stronger and better able to fight infection. That’ll make it less likely that you’ll get pneumonia. If you do, it’ll be more likely that you can fight it.

If you smoke, in addition to the flu vaccine, talk with your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine.

Don’t Drink, or Drink Less

When you abuse alcohol, your body is not as able to fight infection and stay healthy. Heavy drinkers are at greater risk for getting pneumonia and its complications. Experts recommend that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day. Men should drink no more than two.

Take Care of Yourself

One of your best defenses against infection is a strong immune system. You can help yours if you:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 15, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Lung Association: “Preventing Pneumonia.”

Mayoclinic.org: “Pneumonia,” “Nutrition and Healthy Eating.”

CDC: “Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know,” “Types of Haemophilus Influenzae Infections,” “Influenza Vaccination: A Summary for Clinicians,” “Pneumococcal Vaccination,” “Show Me The Science -- Why Wash Your Hands?”

Chest: “Tobacco Smoking Increases the Risk for Death From Pneumococcal Infections.”

Nationwide Children’s: “Palivizumab (Synagis).”

Harvard Health Publishing: “How to Prevent Infections,” “How to Boost Your Immune System.”

Familydoctor.org: “Pneumonia.”

Medline Plus: “Palivizumab Injection.”

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