Pneumonia Warning Siren

During the late 80’s and early 90’s, my wife, young family and I lived and worked in the mountains of Northern California.  Even though an interstate highway went directly through town, we were still considered a relatively small community that looked out for and cared for one another.  At times, winter weather could be quite heavy and the town had a warning system in place to alert the community when we were on the crest of a heavy winter storm. 

Infrequently, the snow would be falling at such a rate that the town’s snow plow system could not keep up with the storm.  This snow fall would create a dangerous environment on the roads due to significant accumulation and, unless you had a snowmobile or a four-wheel-drive with snow tires and chains on all four wheels, you would be stuck. 

This little mountain town had a crude, yet effective, warning system to alert the town that the storm was heavy, the roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles, and stay at home until further notice.  From town central a piercing siren would scream from the top of a building.  I can only imagine that it sounded like an air-raid siren from WWII.  The sound could be heard for miles.  The siren would ring clear for about 60 seconds, and then again, hours later, when the immediate danger was clear.

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by either a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.  The infection will inflame the alveoli (the sacs that transfer oxygen to the blood) in your lungs and may cause the alveoli to fill up with fluid causing severe symptoms such as a severe cough, chills, fever and difficulty breathing.

Patients at high risk for developing pneumonia include:

·         Children 2 years of age or younger because their immune systems are not fully developed.
·         Adults 65 years of age or older.
·         Patients with co-existing disease states such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or some other immuno-compromising disease state.

If not treated soon enough or appropriately, pneumonia may lead to severe complications including:

·         Pleural effusion; this occurs with a fluid buildup in the space between the lining of the lungs and chest cavity.  If the fluid becomes infected it may need to be drained through a chest tube or removed.
·         Bacteremia; this may occur when bacteria enter the bloodstream from the lungs.  This may carry the bacteria and spread infection to other organs in the body.
·         Breathing Difficulty; severe pneumonia, coupled with other existing lung disease, may make it difficult to breath in enough oxygen to oxygenate the tissues.
·         Lung abscess; this may occur if pus forms in a cavity of the lung.  This may then need to be drained with a long needle in order to clear the fluid.

Fortunately, we have an internal warning system that lets us know we may be in danger of developing pneumonia.  Initially, a pneumonia patient may experience some chills, fever and a little difficulty breathing.  As the air-raid siren begins to increase in volume, the individual will be experiencing chest pain when coughing, a cough with phlegm, shortness of breath, and possibly some nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Learn the warning signs and listen to them carefully, especially if you are at “high-risk” for developing pneumonia.  Listening to the warning signs and seeking medical attention as soon as possible will help decrease the chance a pneumonia infection will develop into a more complicated situation.

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