Asthma and Pneumonia: What's the Relation?
Asthma and pneumonia are both lung diseases, but asthma is a chronic condition that lasts long-term and pneumonia is an acute infection. The diseases may cause some similar symptoms, but there are also many differences. Continue reading to understand how having asthma puts you at a higher risk of complications from pneumonia.
According to the American Lung Association, about 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma. Asthma is a long-term respiratory condition that leads to inflammation and constriction or narrowing of the airways.
Doctors are not sure why some people develop asthma, but there are risk factors, such as being obese, smoking and having a relative with asthma.
Symptoms may start in childhood or adulthood. There are different forms of asthma, including allergic, exercised-induced and adult-onset. The symptoms may vary in intensity:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing with or without mucus
- Chest tightness
Treatment for asthma varies based on the frequency and severity of symptoms.
Quick-acting bronchodilators provide fast relief when you have symptoms. There are different categories of quick-acting bronchodilators based on which receptors in the lungs are targeted. Bronchodilators relax the smooth muscles of the airways, which makes it easier to breathe. Quick-acting bronchodilators may be taken through a nebulizer or an inhaler.
Long-acting bronchodilators are used either once or twice a day, even if symptoms are not present to prevent asthma symptoms from developing.
Inhaled steroids treat the airway swelling that can develop in people with asthma. Steroids are also taken every day to prevent symptoms. They should also not be taken to treat symptoms, such as wheezing or shortness of breath.
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lower respiratory tract infection that causes inflammation in the lungs. It can affect both lungs or only one. It can also affect only one lobe of the lungs.
The air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill up with fluid or pus. Pneumonia may be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungi.
Symptoms of pneumonia may be mild or life-threatening. Some people may not even realize they have an infection. In other cases, symptoms are severe.
Common pneumonia symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Pneumonia treatment may vary depending on the cause.
If pneumonia is due to bacteria, antibiotics are often used to treat the infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed intravenously or orally based on the severity of the infection. Antibiotics are not used to treat viral causes of pneumonia. Anti-fungal medications may also be used to treat pneumonia due to fungus.
Childhood asthma is a long-term condition that causes inflammation and constriction or swelling of the airways. Learn more about childhood asthma here.
Some people with pneumonia may have reduced oxygen levels due to trouble breathing. Supplemental oxygen may also be prescribed to help increase oxygen levels in the blood.
Breathing treatments may be given to decrease airway narrowing and make breathing easier. Common medications used include Xopenex and Albuterol. Breathing treatments do not cure pneumonia but may help ease symptoms.
Coughing can be severe in people with pneumonia. Cough medications may help loosen and thin the mucus, so it is easier to cough out of the lungs.
Does Asthma Cause Pneumonia?
Asthma does not cause pneumonia. Pneumonia occurs due to a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection, but people with asthma may have a higher risk of developing the condition after an infection, such as the flu.
According to the American Lung Association, people with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after flu infections compared to people without the disease. Adults over the age of 65 with asthma have over a five times greater risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia than someone without asthma.
There are also some studies that indicate people with asthma who use a steroid inhaler may be more likely to develop pneumonia. Research in the journal Chest found that people who had asthma and used inhaled corticosteroids have an increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections, or pneumonia, compared to people who do not use the steroids. The higher the dose a person takes, the greater the risk.
Is Pneumonia Worse for People With Asthma?
Even though asthma does not directly cause pneumonia, it can be worse for people with chronic lung diseases. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, pneumonia may trigger an asthma attack in some cases.
People who have asthma are also at a higher risk of complications from pneumonia. People with asthma already have sensitive airways. During an asthma attack, increased mucus, swelling and constriction of the airways develop. When you combine that with the inflammation from pneumonia, it can lead to severe complications.
If you have a history of asthma, it is essential to take certain precautions to avoid developing lung infections:
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid infection
- Get your flu shot every year
- Talk to your doctor about whether you need a pneumonia vaccine
- Stay away from people who are sick
- Don’t smoke
- Follow your asthma treatment plan
- Avoid asthma triggers as much as possible, such as pollen and mold