Pneumonia is a respiratory condition caused by an infection. Common causes of the infection that lead to pneumonia are bacteria and viruses. The condition can affect any person at any age; however, there are various risk facts for pneumonia that put some individuals at a higher risk for contracting the condition than others.
How pneumonia is contracted
To understand who is at higher risk for pneumonia, it is important to know how the condition is contracted. Pneumonia often occurs from inhaling germs into the lungs. WebMD explains that community-associated pneumonia is contracted from the germs you come in contact with during your daily life. Health-care-associated pneumonia is caused from germs in health-care settings, such as hospitals and nursing-care facilities.
While bacteria and viruses are the more serious causes of pneumonia, not all cases are linked to germs. Aspiration pneumonia is caused from inhaling food or fluids into the lungs. The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes another form, known as ventilator-associated pneumonia, which is linked to hospital patients who are required to use a respiratory machine.
Risk factors for pneumonia
Your lifestyle can dictate if you are at higher risk for pneumonia. Health-care providers and patients in a health-care setting are at higher risk for health-care-associated pneumonia. The U.S. National Library of Medicine refers to the condition contracted in a hospital as hospital-acquired pneumonia. Risk factors for hospital-acquired pneumonia include older patients, individuals with an alcohol addiction and those with a weakened immune system.
Patients in hospitals are at higher risk for multiple reasons. Individuals in health-care facilities are often already sick, which puts them at a higher risk for contracting other infections, such as pneumonia. Healthcare workers can unknowingly transfer germs from patient to patient, and germs can be spread from patients sharing rooms.
Certain health conditions can cause an increased risk for developing pneumonia. According to the Mayo Clinic these conditions include heart disease, immune deficiency diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and other lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pneumonia often follows other types of illnesses, such as the flu, so people who are already sick have an increased risk for pneumonia.
Individuals with brain disorders like dementia and cerebral palsy may have difficulty swallowing correctly. The American Academy of Family Physicians links brain disorders like cerebral palsy with impaired oral-motor functions. This impairment can cause gastroesophageal reflux, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
Other factors can contribute to pneumonia risks. Age, smoking and environment can play a role. The Mayo Clinic states that "smoking damages your body's natural defenses against bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia." Other inhalants, including air pollution and toxic fumes, can also increase the risks of contracting pneumonia.
Lowering your risks
There are ways to lower your risks for pneumonia, especially those caused by bacteria and viruses. Following certain guidelines like those recommended by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding toxic inhalants, can greatly reduce your chances of pneumonia. WebMD also recommends avoiding "people who have colds, the flu or other respiratory tract infections." You should discuss with your doctor the different vaccinations available for adults and children at high risk for pneumonia.