What can seem like the symptoms of a common cold may actually be pneumonia. Bacteria that cause the cold, flu, and similar viruses are everywhere. However, some can lead to pneumonia, a potentially dangerous condition. Pneumonia occurs when there is an infection of the alveoli. The alveoli are millions of clusters of cells that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. The condition causes the alveoli to fill with fluid, creating a severe inflammatory response. Every year, over 1 million Americans seek emergency care for pneumonia, with small children and the elderly especially at risk. Knowing the symptoms is crucial to getting emergency medical help.
Identifying concerning symptoms
Over 30 different bacteria, viruses, and fungi cause pneumonia. Exposure and infection can first present as symptoms similar to the cold and flu. When an infection occurs, the body responds with coughing, sneezing, a running nose, fevers, and chills. Most people treat these symptoms by resting, taking cold and flu medication, and drinking lots of liquids. Pneumonia will start with these symptoms but can also include body aches, fatigue, and general malaise. All these symptoms should prompt a visit to a family doctor. However, these 3 signs of illness should prompt a person to seek emergency care from a hospital.
1. Rapid, uncontrolled breathing
The alveoli’s job is to receive oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. With pneumonia, the sacs are filled with liquid, so the lungs can no longer work efficiently. As a result, sufficient oxygen cannot get into the bloodstream, and more carbon dioxide will cause rapid breathing. This issue can be life-threatening, requiring immediate assistance.
2. Severe chest pain
When sick, the chest feels heavier as the cell membranes fill with liquid or pus. Some people experience this feeling as chest pain due to the added fluid and pressure in the lungs. The symptom can worsen with coughing or breathing. Severe chest pain is also a sign of stress on the heart as the body no longer pumps oxygenated blood efficiently.
3. Bluish skin color
Some people with pneumonia may notice blue or purple skin color developing. This bluish appearance is most commonly seen on the lips, fingertips, nose, and feet. Called cyanosis, this is often a sign of low oxygen levels in the blood. Since the lungs can no longer work efficiently, parts of the body with tiny blood vessels will lack oxygen, eventually turning blue.
The sooner someone with pneumonia symptoms gets to the hospital, the better. At-risk patients like those over 65, small children, smokers, and people with heart disease must also act immediately. The medical team will first determine the underlying cause of pneumonia with blood tests, which can be difficult. The patient can then receive the correct antibiotics or antiviral medication to control the infection. In mild cases, the patient can continue treatment at home. However, some people may need supplemental oxygen, ventilation, or a tube to drain fluid.
Get emergency help
Pneumonia can present like the common cold or flu. Most people can treat the condition with a healthy diet, hydration, and medication. Severe symptoms, however, are a sign to go to the hospital where doctors can provide life-saving assistance. Some people with a higher risk of infection should be especially aware of these signs and prepared to act.