Nebraska Office of Men's Health

Pneumonia

Risk Factors
  • Adults age 65 or older and very young children, whose immune systems aren't fully developed, are at increased risk of pneumonia. You're also more likely to develop pneumonia if you:
  • Have certain diseases. These include immune deficiency diseases such as HIV/AIDS and chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, emphysema and diabetes. You're also at increased risk if you've had your spleen removed, or your immune system has been impaired by chemotherapy or long-term use of immunosuppressant drugs.
  • Smoke, or abuse alcohol. Millions of microscopic hairs (cilia) cover the surface of the cells lining your bronchial tubes. The hairs beat in a wave-like fashion to clear your airways of normal secretions, but irritants such as tobacco smoke paralyze the cilia, causing secretions to accumulate. If these secretions contain bacteria, they can develop into pneumonia. Alcohol interferes with your normal gag reflex as well as with the action of the white blood cells that fight infection.
  • Are hospitalized in an intensive care unit. Pneumonia acquired in the hospital tends to be more serious than other types of pneumonia. People who require mechanical ventilation are particularly at risk because the breathing tube (endotracheal tube) bypasses the normal defenses of the respiratory tract, prevents coughing, may allow the stomach's contents to back up into the esophagus where they can be aspirated, and can harbor bacteria and other harmful organisms.
  • Are exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants. Your risk of developing some uncommon types of pneumonia may be increased if you work in agriculture, construction or around certain industrial chemicals or animals. Exposure to air pollution or toxic fumes can also contribute to lung inflammation, which makes it harder for the lungs to clear themselves.
  • Have had surgery or experienced a traumatic injury. People who've had surgery or who are immobilized from a traumatic injury have a higher risk of pneumonia because surgery or serious injuries may make coughing — which helps clear the lungs — more difficult and lying flat can allow mucous to collect in your lungs, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.

When to seek medical advice

If you think you may have pneumonia, don't hesitate to get medical care. Serious pneumonia can be life-threatening. See your doctor right away if you have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain that fluctuates with your breathing (pleurisy), an unexplained fever — especially a lasting fever of 102 F or higher along with chills and sweats — or if you suddenly feel worse after a cold or the flu.

Be especially prompt about seeking medical care if you're an older adult or you're affected by tobacco use, alcoholism, injury, chemotherapy or the use of drugs such as prednisone that suppress your immune system. For some older adults and people with heart failure or lung ailments, pneumonia can quickly prove fatal.

Contact Information:
Nebraska Office of Women’s Health
PO Box 94817
Lincoln, NE 68509-4817
402-471-0158
Toll-free 877-257-0073
officeofwomenshealth@dhhs.ne.gov

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