Expert Health Articles

Pneumonia Risk Factors & Preventative Measures

Jigna Janani, MD

Adult Hospitalist
Blanchard Valley Health System Medical Staff

Pneumonia is a common lung infection caused by germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It can be a complication following the common cold, flu, COVID-19 infection, sick contact, travel history, exposure to certain farm animals, or certain environmental risk factors.

First Step in Prevention

Pneumonia and its symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Most healthy people recover from pneumonia, but it can be life-threatening for a few. The good news is that pneumonia can be prevented by getting an annual flu and COVID-19 shot (as flu and COVID-19 often lead to pneumonia), and for people at high risk, getting a vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia, RSV vaccine.

Risk Factors

Risk factors include age (adults 65 and older and children younger than five years of age are at highest risk), immunocompromising condition or being in an immunocompromised state, chronic lung disease, heart, kidney, and liver disease, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and alcoholism.

More Preventative Measures

Frequently washing hands is also a preventive measure to reduce pneumonia risk and is especially important after coughing or blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, diapering, and before eating or preparing foods. You may also protect yourself by wearing a simple face mask in crowded places, especially if you are experiencing respiratory symptoms or at risk for pneumonia.

Quitting smoking also plays a major role in reducing the risk of pneumonia. Tobacco damages your lung's ability to fight off infection, and people who smoke have been found to be at higher risk of getting pneumonia. Pneumonia often follows respiratory infections, so be aware of any symptoms that linger for more than a few days.

Lifestyle Habits Play a Part

Lastly, a healthy diet, rest, regular exercise, and deep breathing exercises help keep you from getting sick from viruses and respiratory illnesses. They also help promote faster recovery when you do get a cold, the flu, or other respiratory illness. Keeping in check your chronic medical conditions like asthma, emphysema/chronic bronchitis, and diabetes also helps in preventing pneumonia. 

Talk to your family doctor if any of these conditions apply to you or if you have concerns about pneumonia.