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Pneumonia feels terrible: intense coughing, fever and often chills, difficulty breathing and coughing up of phlegm. Pneumonia can develop from many causes but each type involves inflammation of the lungs which leads to fluid accumulation. In this article I’ll highlight not just the types of pneumonia, but also who tends to get each type and how it’s usually diagnosed. I’ll also give some prevention tips from the perspective of a naturopathic doctor.

Pneumonia: Inflammation and Fluid Build Up

The precious oxygen that is contained in the air you breathe in enters your body through millions of air sacs which make up much of the lungs. When these air sacs are inflamed and infected or irritated, then fluid builds up…then you have a real difficulty getting that precious oxygen to the rest of your body.

Types of pneumonia, how is it diagnosed and who gets them?

  • Bacterial pneumonia – typically experienced as high fevers (plus the coughing, chills and difficulty breathing); often due to specific bacteria: streptococcus, mycoplasma (often affecting children and young adults) and klebsiella (mostly in hospitalized patients and those with poor immunity); typically diagnosed by cultures of your sputum (phlegm) and x-rays; often preceeded by other infections such as a general cold virus that went deeper which weakened you to allow the bacteria to take hold; bacterial pneumonias are treated with antibiotics
  • Viral pneumonia – often experienced as low-grade fevers with a runny nose, low appetite, wheezing (+ the cough and difficulty breathing); often involving specific viruses: respiratory syncytial, parainfluenza or influenza types; viral pneumonia is diagnosed through physical examination and x-rays and is treated by general supportive care
  • Fungal and mould-related pneumonia – exposure to fungi from soil/excavations or bird droppings can lead to fungal pneumonia; mould exposure can come from humidifiers, air-conditioning ducts, hay and other stored plant materials; besides x-rays, skin tests and a good history of exposure can help in the diagnosis; the pneumonia-related symptoms can resolve quickly when you are no longer in the environment of where you were exposed
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonia – reactions in the lungs due to inhaled chemicals or dusts
  • Irradiation pneumonia – after high/frequent x-ray exposure such as after specific cancer treatment
  • Other types based on situations: aspiration pneumonia (from inhaled vomit/food) often in those with problems swallowing (eg: post-stroke, ALS); ventilator pneumonia

Risk Factors for Getting Pneumonia

  • Under one year of age, over 65

  • Smoker
  • Alcohol use
  • Undergoing surgery
  • Lung disease: asthma, COPD
  • Other chronic illness: heart disease, diabetes
  • Weak immune system due to cancer therapy or HIV
  • Have a cold/flu

How to Prevent Pneumonia

Since most pneumonias are related to viruses and bacteria, a big part of preventing pneumonia involves washing your hands regularly and keeping a distance from those who are ill. Some choose to get vaccinated against several microorganisms which can protect you from developing infections which could lead to pneumonia; this includes vaccines such as the flu vaccine, pneumococcal and other vaccines.

From a naturopathic perspective, it’s a good idea to strengthen your overall health such as by getting regular exercise, avoiding excess sugars in your diet and making sure to eat 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Stress management is also important.

Naturopathic Supportive Care for Pneumonia

Sleep, rest, drink fluids, stay home from work – these are the basics, however there is much more to supportive naturopathic care. Hydrotherapy can be helpful including foot baths and friction rubs. Consuming herbal infusions can be helpful such as from herbs that can assist the respiratory system such as hyssop, white horehound, figwort, etc. Essential oils can be inhaled which can improve breathing and may have antimicrobial effects such as from tea tree oil, eucalyptus, etc. Other herbs can be selected for different situations such as for those with weak immunity or for cough or expectoration.

Vitamin C has been found to reduce the duration of viral infections and studies have found it can be helpful for those with pneumonia. Note that 10% of hospitalized elderly patients have severe vitamin C deficiency (called ‘scurvy’). Taking 5-20grams daily during pneumonia may be of benefit from my experience as a naturopathic doctor.

Dr. Rahim Habib ND
About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.