Winter season brings with it a pleasant nip in the air but could trigger onset of certain illnesses in vulnerable population. As the mercury drops, a rise in pneumonia cases is reported and people who have existing lung issues like COPD, asthma, low immunity or chronic diseases such as diabetes or blood pressure are doubly at risk and must exercise caution around this time of the year. (Also read | Ancient Wisdom Part 28: Why jaggery is the perfect winter superfood; best ways to consume it)
Pneumonia can cause inflammation in the air sacs of one or both lungs and can cause serious complications in those with compromised immune system, elderly or children. The disease can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, and winter season particularly can increase risk of the disease as people tend to stay indoors allowing easy transmission of the germs from one person to the other. To make sure, you can avoid this dreaded disease, it’s important to introduce some lifestyle changes to fight it.
“Often, in our quick-paced lives, the significance of health is disregarded which can be deteriorated by various factors of living. Pneumonia is a potentially serious respiratory disease that can hit anyone but is more dangerous for people whose lifestyles could compromise their immune systems. These things include stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep, among others, which all weaken our body defences making us susceptible to these diseases,” says Dr Anjali R Nath, Consultant Pulmonologist, SPARSH Hospital, Bangalore.
What is pneumonia? Know its symptoms
For a full recovery, it’s important to diagnose and treat pneumonia on time to avoid deadly complications. In winters if you are having chest discomfort, coughing, lethargy, chills, fever, vomiting, you should get immediately consult a doctor.
“An infection that inflames the air sacs in either one or both lungs is called pneumonia. This condition can commonly affect both children and adults. The indicators of pneumonia include symptoms such as chest discomfort, coughing, expectoration, lethargy, perspiration, chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, and breathing difficulties. Not treating it at the right time can lead to complications such as lung abscess,” says Dr Samir Garde, Director of Dept of Pulmonology and Lung Transplant, Global Hospitals, Parel.
Dr Anjali says pneumonia has multiple effects on us and people who lead a sedentary or inactive lifestyle could bear the brunt of its myriad complications which could delay recovery process.
“The infection causes inflammation in the air sacs in the lungs and results in cough with mucus, fever, difficulty breathing and chest pain. For those already straining their bodies with an unhealthy lifestyle, pneumonia can have an even worse impact thus leading to delayed recovery and potential complications. To avoid complications, it is important to see a doctor if you have a persistent cough accompanied by a high fever or difficulty in breathing,” says Dr Anjali.
“Navigating the effects of pneumonia can seem quite daunting, especially when it affects a vulnerable population which is children. Heightened symptoms like fever spikes, laborious breathing, or persistent coughing can be a matter of concern for parents and they may fret about the outcome of the disease,” says Dr Vrushali Bichkar, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Lullanagar, Pune.
Lifestyle choices to reduce risk of pneumonia
There’s more to reducing your risk of pneumonia than just regular hand washing and avoiding sick contacts. You must delve deeper, starting with adopting a healthier lifestyle. Include seasonal fruits, probiotics in your diet and do workout and breathing exercises for improving lung capacity.
“The core pillars of this approach include good nutrition, ample physical activity, and enough restful sleep. Eat foods such as citrus fruits, garlic, and yogurt that boost immunity and inhibit bacterial growth believed to cause pneumonia. Routine physical activity improves lung capacity. A brisk 30-minute walk or light aerobic exercise daily should do the trick. It will also be imperative for one to rest well and get a good night’s sleep of a minimum of 8 hours,” says Dr Vrushali.
Dr Vrushali says stress is also one of the factors that make people prone to respiratory infections.
“Working towards mindfulness through meditation can help fortify your resolve in keeping up healthy customs even under duress since stressed people are particularly prone to respiratory infections! It’s time for us all to take a deep, health-replenishing breath followed by some crunching on antioxidant-rich greens and turning off late-night screens! Try to follow the instructions given by the doctor only and take medication on time. Hydration helps thin down thick mucus secretions, making it easier for little lungs to expel them while easing discomfort simultaneously. Remember this journey may appear turbulent at times but armed with these strategies and comprehensive medical intervention, the child with pneumonia can recover,” she adds.
Agrees Dr Anjali who says pneumonia can be avoided by keeping your immune system powerful and robust. This is especially true for elderly who need to carve out a healthy routine for themselves.
“Prioritising healthy lifestyles can greatly reduce pneumonia risk. A powerful and resilient immune system comes from having fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in a balanced diet. Exercise not only improves general health but also helps the body to fight infections. Breathing exercises along with regular physical exercise also help in improving the lung capacity. While you sleep, your body renews itself; this makes adequate sleep very important. This is because chronic stress weakens the immune system. Moreover, older adults, those with underlying health problems, and people leading specific lifestyles should be more vigilant. Pneumonia has a higher chance of occurring in smokers; therefore, they have to stop smoking to maintain their respiratory health. In addition, the immune system becomes weaker due to excessive alcohol consumption hence making it susceptible to diseases,” she adds.
Tips for treating pneumonia in children
If a child is diagnosed with pneumonia, it becomes crucial to adhere to certain important guidelines. Vaccination according to the expert’s advice is key for children and maintaining the schedule for these immunizations is critical.
“In addition, flu vaccinations should also be considered for children. Regular medical check-ups and consultations are advisable. Practicing good hand hygiene and avoiding crowded areas or contact with sick people are recommended precautions. Pneumonia patients should engage in breathing exercises to enhance lung functionality and consider practices like yoga and meditation as well. Although exposure to cold weather doesn’t directly result in pneumonia it does increase vulnerability due to compromised immunity and close indoor living conditions. Avoid being near someone who is coughing or sneezing as this significantly heightens your risk of acquiring this severe illness. Implementing these sensible daily habits along with caution can significantly help in preventing pneumonia infection. Ensuring adequate sleep, regular physical activity and a nutritious diet can strengthen immunity against various diseases, conditions, allergies, and infections. Go for scanning as per the doctor’s instructions. Do not venture out when the air quality is poor and there is air pollution as it can take a toll on the lungs,” says Dr Samir.