Our bodies have built-in security systems. For instance, your nose and airways filter germs out of the air you breathe, which help keep your lungs from becoming infected. But there are times when germs find a way to enter the lungs and cause infections. This is more likely to occur when:
Your immune system is weak.
You have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Your body fails to filter germs out of the air you breathe.
Pneumonia is one of those common lung infections caused by germs, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. The most common type of bacterial pneumonia is called pneumococcal pneumonia and occurs when Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria spreads from person to person through coughing or close contact. When these bacteria reach your lungs, the lungs' air sacs (alveoli) can become inflamed and fill up with mucus. This makes breathing more difficult and may reduce oxygen levels in the blood, which can be fatal. Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia can come on quickly and may include chest pain from difficulty breathing or coughing, excessive sweating, a cough with phlegm that persists or gets worse, a high fever with shaking chills and fatigue. Certain symptoms, like cough and fatigue, can last for weeks or longer. In serious cases, pneumococcal pneumonia can even put you in the hospital.
While anyone can get pneumococcal pneumonia, some people are more at risk than others. Individuals with certain chronic medical conditions, such as COPD – which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis – and asthma are especially at risk for pneumococcal pneumonia. For adults 65 or older living with COPD, the risk for contracting pneumococcal pneumonia is 7.7 times higher than their healthy counterparts, and those with asthma are at 5.9 times greater risk. COPD and asthma can cause your airways to swell and become blocked with mucus, which can make it hard to breathe and leaves your respiratory system more susceptible to infections like pneumococcal pneumonia. In addition, if you have chronic lung disease and develop pneumococcal pneumonia you may have more severe symptoms and are at higher risk for hospitalization. It can also take you longer to recover and you are more likely to develop serious complications from the infection.
Age alone also increases your risk of serious complications from pneumococcal pneumonia. In fact, for adults 65 years or older, the risk of hospitalization with pneumococcal pneumonia is more than 10 times higher than younger adults aged 18 to 49. That's because the body's immune system naturally weakens as we get older, making it harder for our bodies to fight off infections and disease. Learn more about pneumococcal pneumonia, and assess your risk through a quiz at Lung.org/pneumococcal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pneumococcal vaccination for adults 65 or older, and Medicare covers administration of pneumococcal vaccines for adults 65 or older with no out-of-pocket costs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 goal for any pneumococcal vaccination for adults 65 or older is 90 percent, but as of September 2016 rates were only around 56 percent—well below the national goal.
There are many missed opportunities for pneumococcal vaccination, including at our typical doctors' visits. If you have a chronic lung disease, you may regularly see your COPD or asthma specialist, or maybe your primary care provider. At your next appointment, ask them if pneumococcal vaccination is right for you.
Content was developed in partnership with Pfizer Inc.