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Pneumonia Patients - Recommended Lifestyle Changes

Marion Sereti


March 16, 2023
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A woman taking deep breaths

Pneumonia is a severe respiratory infection that accounts for the hospitalization of around 1 million adults and 50,000 deaths every year in the United States alone((American Lung Association. (2022). Five Facts You Should Know About Pneumonia. Retrieved March 4 2023 from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/five-facts-you-should-know)). During hospitalization,  nursing professionals help you breathe easier. They also provide you with medication to aid your body in fighting off pneumonia-causing pathogens.

Additionally, they ensure you consume enough fluids and nutrients. But what happens, though, when you arrive home? How does, or should, having pneumonia affect your lifestyle? This article examines possible lifestyle adjustments for pneumonia patients.

1. Eating a Healthy Diet

The British Lung Foundation recommends eating a healthy, balanced, and diverse diet to boost your recovery from pneumonia and maintain the health of your lungs((Asthma + Lung UK. (2020). Eating a healthy diet. British Lung Foundation. Retrieved March 4 from https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/eating-well/eating-a-healthy-diet)). A 2015 review article in the journal Nutrients suggests((Berthon, B. S., & Wood, L. G. (2015). Nutrition and respiratory health--feature review. Nutrients, 7(3), 1618–1643. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7031618)) that your diet greatly impacts how your lung illness develops, progresses, and is managed.

Certain meals can cause symptom flare-ups in people with pneumonia; therefore, you may want to avoid these foods if you have pneumonia:

  • Fried foods – fried foods can cause bloating and also contain unhealthy fat, which heighten the risk of heart disease((Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022). Trans fat is double trouble for heart health. Mayo Clinc. Retrieved March 4 2023 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114))
  • Soft drinks and commercially processed foods
  • All foodstuffs made with artificial additives, colorings, flavors, and preservatives
  • Milk and dairy products, as they considerably contribute to the body's mucus production
  • All products containing caffeine, including coffee
  • Avoid alcohol use((CDC. (2022). Drinking too much alcohol harms your health. Learn the facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 4 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm))

What Food Is Good for Pneumonia

  • Fruits and vegetables, for vitamins and minerals that combat infections
  • For energy and regular bowel movements, consume whole grains and nutrient-dense carbohydrates, like brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain bread
  • Whole proteins, such as fish, chicken, and legumes, help maintain muscle strength
  • Calcium, of which non-dairy sources are fish and greens, helps keep your bones strong and your heart steady
  • Healthy fats((Rosenkranz, S. K., Townsend, D. K., Steffens, S. E., & Harms, C. A. (2010). Effects of a high-fat meal on pulmonary function in healthy subjects. European journal of applied physiology, 109(3), 499–506. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1390-1)) to reduce airway inflammation
  • Supplements support your body in many different ways regarding lung health, such as probiotics((Zhao, Y., Dong, B. R., & Hao, Q. (2022). Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews,  2022(8). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd006895.pub4)), Vitamin D((Das, R. R., Singh, M., & Naik, S. S. (2018). Vitamin D as an adjunct to antibiotics for the treatment of acute childhood pneumonia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2018(7). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011597.pub2))  and E((Hemilä H. (2016). Vitamin E administration may decrease the incidence of pneumonia in elderly males. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 11, 1379–1385. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S114515)), Zinc((Shehzad, N., Anwar, M. I., & Muqaddas, T. (2015). Zinc supplementation for the treatment of severe pneumonia in hospitalized children: A randomized controlled trial. Sudanese Journal of Paediatrics, 15(1), 37–41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4949856/)), and natural supplements derived from plants

Does Vitamin C Prevent Pneumonia?

A 2013 analysis suggests that there is insufficient evidence to support the preventive use of vitamin C((Hemilä, H., & Louhiala, P. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating pneumonia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2013(8).https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005532.pub3)) to prevent pneumonia in the general population. However, due to its low cost and risk, therapeutic vitamin C supplementation may be appropriate for helping to treat pneumonia patients with low vitamin C plasma levels. Moreover, studies illustrate that smokers may benefit from higher vitamin C doses and that smokers who consume more vitamin C have better lung function than those who consume less vitamin C((Shin, J. Y., Shim, J. Y., Lee, D. C., & Lee, H. R. (2015). Smokers With Adequate Vitamin C Intake Show a Preferable Pulmonary Function Test. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(5), 385–390. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2014.926152)).

2. Practice Good Hygiene

Good hygiene practices help in infection control((CDC. (2009). Respiratory Hygeine/Cough Ettiquette in Healthcare Settings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 4 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/infectioncontrol/resphygiene.htm)). This involves actions taken to stop the transmission of any infection, including pneumonia, such as:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water, especially after defecation, changing diapers, before/after eating and preparing food
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer to disinfect surfaces and hands when water is unavailable as an alternative. 
  • Maintain oral hygiene((Son, M., Jo, S., Lee, J. S., & Lee, D. H. (2020). Association between oral health and incidence of pneumonia: a population-based cohort study from Korea. Scientific Reports, 10(1).. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-66312-2 )) – Regular dental cleaning along with brushing twice a day leads to good oral hygiene, as germs and bacteria present in the mouth can lead to several respiratory disorders if these are not done 
  • Cover your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing to prevent the infection from spreading
  • Pneumonia patients should limit face-to-face contact with family, friends, and especially sick people because pneumonia decreases immunity and so you’re more likely to pick up germs with contact

3. Take Plenty of Fluids

Drinking plenty of water is crucial for good health and overall body function in general((Mayo Clinic. (2022). Water: How much should you drink every day? Retrieved March 4 2023 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256)). It can also aid in removing mucus from the respiratory tract, thereby working as nature’s decongestant. Fluid intake for pneumonia patients must be adequate because a lack of it could lead to dehydration. Broth, soups, and herbal tea (without caffeine) can warm the lungs while also removing more phlegm((Saketkhoo, K., Januszkiewicz, A., & Sackner, M. A. (1978). Effects of Drinking Hot Water, Cold Water, and Chicken Soup on Nasal Mucus Velocity and Nasal Airflow Resistance. Chest, 74(4), 408–410). https://doi.org/10.1016/s0012-3692(15)37387-6)).

4. Physical Activity and Exercise

Studies((Kunutsor, S. K., Seidu, S., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2022). Physical activity reduces the risk of pneumonia: systematic review and meta-analysis of 10 prospective studies involving 1,044,492 participants. GeroScience, 44(1), 519–532. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-021-00491-2)) suggest that physical activity reduces the risk of pneumonia. Yoga in particular, with its mixture of deep breathing((Saxena, T., & Saxena, M. (2009). The effect of various breathing exercises (pranayama) in patients with bronchial asthma of mild to moderate severity. International Journal of Yoga, 2(1), 22–25. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.53838)) and movements, is effective at improving lung function((Yadav, A., Singh, S., Singh, K., & Pai, P. (2015). Effect of yoga regimen on lung functions including diffusion capacity in coronary artery disease patients: A randomized controlled study. International Journal of Yoga, 8(1), 62–67. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.146067)). Furthermore, pneumonia can bring on stress and anxiety, which can worsen symptoms and slow down recovery, and exercise is a good and healthy way to cope with stress. 

A woman doing yoga

5. Take Medicines As Prescribed

To help fight the infection and reduce inflammation, pneumonia is frequently treated with antibiotics, antiviral and antifungal medications. Pneumonia patients must adhere to their treatment regimen and take their drugs as prescribed, otherwise, pneumonia may not be fully eradicated and could come back or have other adverse effects.

For the management of pneumonia, routine examinations and doctor visits are also crucial to receive the proper medical attention and medication. Never use medication without consulting a physician.

6. Avoid Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol use weakens the immune system((Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Alcohol Use and Your Health. CDC. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm)) and makes your body more vulnerable to various illnesses((Mehta, A. J., & Guidot, D. M. (2017). Alcohol and the Lung. Alcohol research : current reviews, 38(2), 243–254. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513688/)). The most common and identifiable alcohol-associated health problems are:

  • Digestion issues 
  • Liver illness 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer of the rectum, liver, colon, mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast
  • Immune system deterioration generally increases the likelihood of getting sick
  • Memory and learning issues, including dementia, and subpar academic performance

Bacterial pneumonia is a prevalent and dangerous illness that affects heavy drinkers at a higher rate than non- or low-level drinkers((Luján, M., Gallego, M., Belmonte, Y., Fontanals, D., Vallès, J., Lisboa, T., & Rello, J. (2010). Influence of pneumococcal serotype group on outcome in adults with bacteraemic pneumonia. The European respiratory journal, 36(5), 1073–1079. https://doi.org/10.1183/09031936.00176309)). An analysis of many articles found that heavy drinkers are around twice as likely to catch pneumonia than non- or low-level drinkers, with an 8% increase for every 20g of alcohol drunk a day((Simou, E., Britton, J., & Leonardi-Bee, J. (2018). Alcohol and the risk of pneumonia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open, 8(8). p. e022344. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022344)).

7. Avoid Smoking

Smoking is hazardous to your health since it affects the respiratory system, creating more chances of lung conditions like pneumonia((Baskaran, V., Murray, R. L., Hunter, A., Lim, W. S., & McKeever, T. M. (2019). Effect of tobacco smoking on the risk of developing community acquired pneumonia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 14(7), p. e0220204. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220204)).

Smoke can cause complications such as coughing and difficulty breathing, making pneumonia worse and causing healing to take longer. Smokers should aim to stop or at the least minimize their smoking while they are getting better from pneumonia.

Additionally, stay away from places with open fireplaces and other potentially polluted air sources.

A guy smoking

8. Get Plenty of Fresh Air

Getting lots of fresh air might help with recuperation and lung health. Poor indoor air quality1 is a well-known risk factor for lung diseases, especially when it comes to biomass fuels. This risk factor may be modified by using cleaner fuels, better cooking stoves or heaters, and better ventilation.

WHO estimates that around 7 million people each year pass away from exposure to fine particles((World Health Organization. (2014). 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. WHO. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.who.int/news/item/25-03-2014-7-million-premature-deaths-annually-linked-to-air-pollution)), with air pollution being responsible for 29% of lung cancer fatalities and 43% of deaths from obstructive lung disorders.

Fortunately, the easiest way to receive fresh air is to open windows or spend time outside (if appropriate).

Appropriate humidifier use is recommended as a form of treatment for pneumonia, but you shouldn't rely solely on the humidifier((Sugimoto, R., Kenzaka, T., Fujikawa, M., Kawasaki, S., & Nishisaki, H. (2020). Humidifier Use and Prone Positioning in a Patient with Severe COVID-19 Pneumonia and Endotracheal Tube Impaction Due to Highly Viscous Sputum. Cureus, 12(6), e8626. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8626)). Remember to ask your doctor or physician to include a humidifier for daily use. 

9. Rest and Avoid Strenuous Activities

Rest is essential for the body's cellular repair, but it may be particularly helpful for shortness of breath. Humidifiers boost indoor air quality and can greatly reduce symptoms, like coughing, while opening nasal passages to reduce irritation and facilitate easier breathing, which aid in improving sleep in terms of how long it takes to get to sleep and how good the sleep is((Ichiba, T., Kakiuchi, K., Suzuki, M., & Uchiyama, M. (2019). Warm Steam Inhalation before Bedtime Improved Sleep Quality in Adult Men. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2453483)).

Additionally, pneumonia can cause weakness and fatigue. So, until you are feeling better, avoid physically demanding activities. This may include activities like heavy lifting or vigorous exercise. Mayo Clinic advises that you wait until your temperature is normal and you no longer cough up mucus before returning to class or your job((Mayo Clinic. (2020). Pneumonia - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354210)). 

You should be careful not to overdo it, even if you start to feel better. It's best to wait until you fully recover before returning to your routine because pneumonia can recur. If you're unsure, consult your doctor.

Related: Should You Exercise with a Cough?

10. Get Vaccinated

Vaccines can aid in preventing some forms of pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

The American Lung Association recommends that the following groups of people should be vaccinated((American Lung Association. (2023). Preventing Pneumonia. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/preventing-pneumonia)): 

  • Children under the age of 2
  • Children aged 2 to 5 who suffer from conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or chronic lung disease
  • Adults between the ages of 19 and 64 who smoke or who have certain risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, COPD, or asthma
  • All adults 65 and older
  • Depending on their health, adults and children who are at a higher risk of pneumococcal disease may also need vaccinations

The CDC has approved two types of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for younger children, older adults, and certain other people who have other conditions or other risk factors((Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know. CDC. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/public/index.html)).:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines:
    • PCV13 (Prevnar 13®)
    • PCV15 (Vaxneuvance®)
    • PCV20 (Prevnar 20®)
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV23)

PCV13 or PCV15 is recommended for should be administered to all children under the age of five, as well as and children between the ages of five and 18 and adults with certain medical conditions that increase their risk of pneumococcal disease. Whereas PCV15  followed by a dose of PPSV23 should be given to adults at 65 years old and over or are 19 through 64 years old and have certain medical conditions or other risk factors.

Not only does vaccination lower the risk of pneumonia, but also reduces hospital admissions for pneumonia in adults. For example, evidence indicates that medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older who used PCV13 had fewer pneumonia hospitalizations((Kobayashi, M., Spiller, M. W., Wu, X., Wang, R., Chillarige, Y., Wernecke, M., MaCurdy, T. E., Kelman, J. A., Deng, L., Shang, N., Whitney, C. G., Pilishvili, T., & Lessa, F. C. (2023). Association of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Use With Hospitalized Pneumonia in Medicare Beneficiaries 65 Years or Older With and Without Medical Conditions, 2014 to 2017. JAMA internal medicine, 183(1), 40–47. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.5472)).

A person bein vaccinated

11. Treat Underlying Conditions

Pneumonia can be more severe in people with certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes((Kornum, J. B., et al. (2008). Diabetes, glycemic control, and risk of hospitalization with pneumonia: a population-based case-control study. Diabetes Care, 31(8), 1541–1545. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc08-0138)). asthma((Browne, L. R., & Gorelick, M. H. (2010). Asthma and pneumonia. Pediatric clinics of North America, 57(6), 1347–1356. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2010.09.002)), or COPD((Restrepo, M. I., Sibila, O., & Anzueto, A. (2018). Pneumonia in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases, 81(3), 187–197. https://doi.org/10.4046/trd.2018.0030)), among others. Statistics indicate that adults 65 and older with COPD have 7.7 the risk for contracting pneumococcal pneumonia than their healthy counterparts, and those with asthma are at 5.9 times greater risk((American Lung Association. (2017). World Pneumonia Day Is a Yearly Reminder of this Serious, Potentially Life-threatening Lung Infection. Retrieved 9th March 2023 from https://www.lung.org/media/press-releases/world-pneumonia-day)).

Therefore, patients should work with their healthcare provider to manage these conditions and take steps to keep them under control.

12. Seek Support

Many patients who have chronic pulmonary issues also struggle with their mental health. You might have anxiety, a bad mood, or depressive symptoms. It's fairly typical to suffer both despair and anxiety at the same time.

For instance, a recent population-based study((Davydow, D. S., Hough, C. L., Zivin, K., Langa, K. M., & Katon, W. J. (2014). Depression and risk of hospitalization for pneumonia in a cohort study of older Americans. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 77(6), 528–534. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2014.08.002)) found a link between depression and later pneumonia hospitalization. So, it's important for patients to seek support to help them manage their condition and recover more quickly because coping with pneumonia can be challenging, both physically and emotionally.

One can seek support from:

  • Family & loved ones 
  • Healthcare providers
  • Online communities 
  • Support groups 

If you note significant and persistent distress, consult with a therapist or psychologist. 

You can also practice relaxation techniques to help manage stress yourself. Some helpful relaxation techniques include:

  • Breathing exercises:
    • Deep breathing 
    • Belly breathing
    • Pursed lip breathing
  • Meditation
  • Yoga((Yadav, A., Singh, S., Singh, K., & Pai, P. (2015). Effect of yoga regimen on lung functions including diffusion capacity in coronary artery disease patients: A randomized controlled study. International Journal of Yoga, 8(1), 62–67. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.146067)), particularly the breathing techniques pranayama((Saxena, T., & Saxena, M. (2009). The effect of various breathing exercises (pranayama) in patients with bronchial asthma of mild to moderate severity. International Journal of Yoga, 2(1), 22–25. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.53838)) 
  • Stretching
  • Aerobics
  • Walking

Bottom Line 

Lifestyle factors like smoking, heavy drinking, poor dental hygiene or simply being a present or former smoker or heavy drinker carries a significantly elevated risk of pneumonia in all adult age groups. However, identifying and controlling the risk factors of pneumonia could be the way to prevent the disease and reduce complications.

  1. Ambrosino, N., & Bertella, E. (2018). Lifestyle interventions in prevention and comprehensive management of COPD. Breathe, 14(3), 186–194. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.018618 []

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