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Last updated May 25, 2017, originally published July 4, 2016
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist
What sends people to the hospital more than any other cause, except
childbirth, in the US today? Which condition cost nearly $10.6 billion for
1.1 million hospital stays in 2011? What is the leading cause of death
among children under 5 worldwide? Pneumonia. This serious lung
condition kills 53,282 every year, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (2013).
Pneumonia is the most common reason children in the US are
hospitalized, according to the American Thoracic Society 2015. And
while young, healthy adults are less likely to die from pneumonia, for
US seniors hospitalization for pneumonia has a greater risk of death
than hospitalization for any of the other top 10 reasons for admittance.
Once you are admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, the death rate is
from 10% to 25%, according to the CDC. If yo are admitted to the
hospital for some reason other than pneumonia but you develop
pneumonia while in the hospital, the death rate ranges between 50%
Pneumonia presents serious health risks – many people with
pneumonia need to stay in the intensive care unit, and recovery can
take as long as eight weeks. And it seems we are not winning the battle
against pneumonia – the death rate from the disease in the US has not
changed even since antibiotic use became widespread more than 50
Why is pneumonia so serious? And is there any way to better prevent
What Exactly is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a common lung infection. It is spread via sneezing, touch,
coughing, and breathing. Pneumonia doesn’t always result in death,
and can be mild. But it may be life-threatening.
Many bacteria, viruses and fungi can cause pneumonia and in fact the
disease has more than 30 different causes.
In the US, one third of pneumonia cases are caused by viruses
according to the American Lung Association. The flu virus is the most
Pneumonia can also develop in patients who are hospitalized for other
reasons, and this is called hospital-acquired pneumonia. Ventilator-
associated pneumonia occurs when a patient is on a ventilator and is a
serious issue for people who are critically ill – it often leads to
Antibiotics may be effective for pneumonia caused by bacteria,
although antibiotic resistance is growing, but are ineffective for
pneumonia caused by viruses. There is no effective treatment for
pneumonia caused by a virus, one of the reasons it is such a huge killer
particularly among people who are already ill.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Pneumonia symptoms vary from mild to severe, depending on how old
you are, your health, and the type of pneumonia you have. The most
common symptoms are cough (often with a green or yellow mucus),
fever, chills, and shortness of breath. You may also suffer from a chest
pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply, a headache, sweating,
loss of energy, and confusion.
With bacterial pneumonia, you may have a fever as high as 105 degrees
F and intense sweating with increased pulse rate and breathing.
With viral pneumonia the symptoms start as with the flu but
breathlessness increases over 12 to 36 hours and the cough becomes
worse. The lips may be blue.
What Are the Risk Factors for Dying from Pneumonia?
You are at increased risk of pneumonia and of dying from the condition
when you already have a chronic lung disease, or another serious
condition such as heart disease or diabetes. Having a weakened
immune system puts you at increased risk of getting and dying from
You are more likely to get pneumonia if you are a smoker, if you have
had a viral respiratory infection, or if you live in a nursing facility.
While pneumonia is a serious condition that needs medical treatment,
there are natural remedies that can help recovery and even help
prevent the disease. We looked at recent scientific studies to find out
1. Vitamin C May Help Reduce the Risk of Pneumonia
Among people who are at increased risk of pneumonia and who have a
low dietary intake of vitamin C, supplementation with this vitamin
results in a reduced risk of suffering from the disease according to a
2007 study from the University of Helsinki in Finland. The review looked
at the results of three studies involving 2,335 people.
2. Use Lomatium to Treat Viral Pneumonia?
The bright yellow herb "lomatium" was traditionally used by native
tribes in North America to treat infections involving the lungs. Some
herbalists believe that the herb can treat viral pneumonia, but there is
no concrete proof.
However, test-tube studies such as a 1996 report from the University
of British Columbia in Canada show that lomatium does have antiviral
properties, which could account for its historical popularity.
3. Take Vitamin A to Reduce the Severity of Pneumonia Symptoms?
Scientists have looked at using vitamin A to treat lower respiratory tract
infections like pneumonia. In a 2011 review of 10 studies from West
China Hospital in Chengdu, China vitamin A was useful for children who
were undernourished. But in most cases taking vitamin A did not
significantly reduce the severity of pneumonia symptoms in other cases.
4. Vitamin E Helps Protect the Lungs Against Pneumonia Infection
Giving mice extra vitamin E protected them from the bacterial infection
that commonly causes pneumonia, according to a 2014 study from
The extra vitamin E helped regulate the immune system, reducing the
rate of infection.
Vitamin E was found to be particularly useful for older people because
the immune system weakens with age, making the lungs more
vulnerable to infection.
5. The Importance of Fortified Milk for Protecting Children from
Children in developing countries consuming milk fortified with zinc,
iron, selenium, copper, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E were less
likely to suffer from diarrhea and pneumonia, according to a 2006
study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the
Center for Micronutrient Research at Annamalai University in India.
The micronutrients are highly important for maintaining good immune
response in the body, which is of particular importance in countries
where pneumonia kills thousands of children every year.
6. Boost Your Vitamin D Levels to Reduce Pneumonia Risk
Studies show that low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk of
In 2013, scientists from the University of Eastern Finland discovered
that the risk of pneumonia is 2.5 times higher in people with the lowest
vitamin D levels than those with high vitamin D levels.
The study looked at 1,421 people living in Eastern Finland. Vitamin D
deficiency is linked with a weakened immune system. In the study,
smoking also presented a significantly increased risk of the condition.
The most plentiful source of Vitamin D is the sun. Read more about how
much Vitamin D is produced by sun exposure.
7. Friendly Bacteria Can Reduce Pneumonia Bacteria in Hospitals
Researchers have found that probiotic or “friendly” bacteria are just as
effective as antiseptic at reducing harmful bacteria that can cause
pneumonia in hospital patients on ventilators.
The 2008 study by the University Hospital in Lund, Sweden found that
Lactobacillus plantarum 299 (Lp299) destroys dangerous bacteria that
can cause pneumonia in people on ventilators. The study looked at 50
critically-ill patients on ventilation.
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|Vitamin A may help to protect
your lungs against pneumonia.