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Preventing Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. Those most at risk include older adults, smokers, and people with chronic lung diseases. For example, those with conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), including emphysema or chronic bronchitis, and asthma, and those with a weak immune system. There are some things you can do to reduce the chance that you will get pneumonia.

Close-up of hands at sink washing in running water.

Prevent infection

  • Wash your hands often:

    • Use soap and clean, running water and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. That's as long as it takes to hum the "Happy Birthday" song 2 times.

    • Lather and scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

    • If soap and water aren't available, use a hand cleaner with alcohol in it.

  • Don't touch your face and mouth with your hands.

  • Take care of your teeth and gums every day and see your dentist regularly. Daily oral care and regular dental visits are important to keep your teeth and gums healthy. They also help control your lung disease. Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, clean your dentures, floss, and use an antimicrobial mouth rinse that contains chlorhexidine. Doing these things every day and seeing your dentist as scheduled can help:

    • Lower the amount of bacteria in your mouth.

    • Lower the risk for pneumonia from accidentally inhaling bacteria in your lungs on tiny droplets of saliva. This is called aspiration.

  • Use disposable tissues instead of a handkerchief. Throw used tissues away.

  • Stay away from people who have a cold or the flu.

  • Try to stay away from crowded places.

Get vaccinated

Talk with your healthcare provider about vaccinations and if you should get a yearly flu shot. There are now 2 different pneumonia vaccines. Both of these are needed if you have a chronic disease or fit into the higher risk category.  

  • Get a flu shot every year as soon as it's available in your area. The flu shot helps prevent you from getting the flu and complications of the flu, such as pneumonia.

  • Get pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines. Talk with your healthcare provider about which pneumococcal vaccines are right for you.

Do suggested breathing exercises

Deep breathing and coughing exercises can help clear your lungs. Your healthcare provider may suggest them. If so, you will be shown how to do them. Do them as often as your provider instructs.

Take care of your body

  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.

  • Eat well-balanced, healthy meals.

  • Brush and floss your teeth every day. It's also important to brush teeth and floss at bedtime.

  • Call your dentist right away if you have problems with your teeth or gums.

  • Don't drink alcohol.

  • Don’t smoke and don't let people smoke in your home. Stay away from places where people are smoking.

  • Moving around helps keep your lungs clear. Ask your healthcare provider what type of activity is best for you. Walking is often a good choice.

  • Get enough rest. Sleep at least 8 hours each night. Rest or nap during the day as needed.

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you should schedule follow-up care to make sure the infection is gone.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2019
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