Shortness of breath can be very scary. For senior citizens who are at risk of contracting a chest infection, the fear of being unable to breathe is very real. Whether it’s affecting your bronchus and larger airways, or more deeply rooted, in your air sacs, the outcomes can be deadly, and for senior citizens, even more so. Recently The Nightingale of Bollywood – Lata Mangeshkar’s health deteriorated rapidly. The singer offers yet another example of the dangers of chest infections for senior citizens.

What makes chest infections so severe for the elderly?

As people age, the responses produced by their immune systems towards diseases tend to grow weaker. They also eat less food, and their diets may not be nutritious enough to help them combat disease effectively. Their chances of contracting diseases also increase based on their surroundings. Senior citizens living in elderly-care facilities may seem comfortable in their well-maintained living spaces, but the threat of germs, bacteria, and viruses, and little access to fresh air means that their chances of contracting respiratory illnesses remain high.

What are the symptoms of chest infections though?

Symptoms for and bronchitis in the elderly can range from what seems like a mild cold at the start – a cough with mucus (greenish, yellow or even bloody), a fever with the chills and loss of appetite, low energy levels, and fatigue. A sharp stabbing pain while taking deep breaths or coughing, general shortness of breath and nausea are warning signs of chest infections that should not be ignored. In older people, a sense of confusion is also commonly associated with these diseases. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately.

How do you overcome a chest infection?

The goal of any kind of treatment is to cure the infection, while also preventing any complications. If your chest infection is bacterial, your doctor will most likely prescribe an antibiotic. Taking an antibiotic for the prescribed duration is a necessity, even if you feel much better after a few days of treatment. Not doing so could lead to a recurrence of the infection and a chance that the bacteria becomes now resistant to the treatment. 

For viral chest infections, doctors may prescribe antiviral medication in extreme cases, but most often, symptom management and rest are the best medicine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), plenty of fluids, warm beverages, and plenty of rest can help your body stave off the worst parts of the infection and speed up recovery. 

Can vaccinations help?

An annual flu vaccination can help the body prepare for any potential flu-related illnesses better. This is especially true for senior citizens, who can benefit from the antibodies in their bloodstream. A pneumococcal vaccine every five years can help prevent the onset of bacterial pneumonia, and thus ensure peace of mind for the elderly.

Are there any famous people it has affected?

Legendary Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar’s health has deteriorated rapidly over the last week. She complained of breathing difficulties and was recently admitted to Breach Candy hospital in South Mumbai. Famous singer James Brown also passed away due to pneumonia-related complications a day after being admitted to the hospital. Even former American President Gerald Ford who had battled pneumonia earlier in the year struggled to regain his health after battling the disease. He died one day after James Brown did.  

By understanding the threat posed by chest infections, and taking steps to prevent them, or by minimizing their impact when they occur, people can easily overcome the odds. Contracting a chest infection for senior citizens can be risky, but it isn’t the end of the world. The key to a long, happy, and healthy life is always within reach if you know what to look for, and how to find it.