How To Keep The Flu From Turning Into Pneumonia, According To An Expert

Ad failed to load

It's official — this year's flu is an actual public health crisis. As the death toll continues to climb, local governments are urging the public to get vaccinated, while medical experts reports hospitals overflowing with flu cases. Some people wind up hospitalized because flu symptoms can be frightening intense. Still others seek medical help when influenza invites an unpleasant houseguest — like pneumonia — to stay. If you or a loved one has a bad case, you might be wondering how to keep flu from turning into pneumonia. What, if anything, can you do to decrease your risk of confronting this dangerous complication?

Nationwide, this flu season's hospitalizations are the highest in almost a decade, reported The Washington Post, and pneumonia or suscipion of pneumonia is a major driver of emergency room visits. While you can't always control the course of an illness, you can be aware of your risk factors, and take simple, practical daily measures to decrease the severity of your flu.

Ad failed to load

According to Dr. Suchitra Rao, MD, an infectious disease specialist and Associate Medical Director of Epidemiology at Children's Hospital Colorado, it starts with measures — like the "vampire cough" — that prevent the spread of the flu virus to begin with. "We know that if you can do all those things that we talk about during flu season, like washing your hands and practicing good hand hygiene, trying not to cough onto objects or surfaces, those are definitely things that will help prevent flu from turning into pneumonia," Rao tells Romper.

Beyond that, smokers are more prone to developing pneumonia, because of the damaging effects of tobacco inhalation on the lungs. Rao suggests avoiding smoking altogether — or at least during the winter months and whenever you feel sick. Other populations at risk include pregnant women, whose immune systems are weaker, those with underlying medical conditions, and children under 5. For very young children, and especially those under 2, "it's probably worth getting checked out sooner rather than later," says Rao.

Getting vaccinated can also prevent serious complications, even if you still catch that awful flu. According to the American Association of Microbiology, the vaccine actually decreases the severity of the illness. "We also know that there’s some evidence that antiviral medicine can help, too," Rao explains. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that if you start antivirals within 48 hours of symptoms, it could minimize your risk of developing pneumonia. For kids under 5, antivirals may even be useful beyond that window.

Ad failed to load

So what about antibiotics? Shouldn't we all be taking them, just in case the flu leads to something worse? According to Rao, antibiotics aren't a great preventative measure, in part because not all pneumonia is bacterial. If doctors do identify a bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics may be given along with antivirals.

If you already have the flu, preventing a turn for the worse may come down to simple self-care. "Really eating very healthy, resting appropriately, and drinking lots of fluids — whatever we can do to make our immune system nice and strong, we can prevent any kind of secondary complications," says Rao.

Ad failed to load

OK, for all you parents soldiering through a winter riddled with sickness, I know getting your full eight hours of sleep sounds all but impossible. Since January, I've cared for an ailing toddler, quickly followed by an ailing husband, and a good night's rest isn't something I've had in weeks. (Literally, weeks.) Nevertheless, it's important to prioritize your health whenever you can, even if that just means dropping dehydrating beverages like alcohol and replacing them with healthy snacks and a tall glass of water (no, not that kind). Now is not the time to take on big new projects at work, either — unless, of course, you're an flu specialist like Rao.

This year, the state of Colorado, where Rao practices medicine and conducts research, has seen a 227 percent increase in hospitalizations resulting from the flu, and they're feeling it. "It’s definitely a very busy, busy time of year," Rao observes. Interestingly, the cases of pneumonia Rao and her team are seeing are often related to underlying medical conditions. For that reason, preventing complications may also mean being aware of, and properly managing, issues like chronic lung disease, immune and heart conditions, and neurologic conditions.

Ad failed to load

One of the scariest things about pneumonia is how quickly it can set in. Especially with young children, Rao suggests that parents have a low threshold for bringing them to a provider. In the meantime, if you or a family member has the flu, it's crucial to keep watch for signs you're really dealing with something new.

"What we typically see, is you get those initial symptoms of cough and fever and chills, and those things are usually caused by the [flu] virus," Rao observes. "But anything four-to-fourteen days after the initial symptoms, that’s when the secondary pneumonia can develop."

Pneumonia might present with chest pain, difficulty breathing, pain with deep breaths, and a more productive cough.

Ad failed to load

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills