Getting pneumonia while hospitalized

If the person you care for has been hospitalized, you may have noticed an odd-looking device on their bedside table. This is a “spirometer.” Patients blow into it several times an hour to prevent a particularly serious infection: hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Hospital patients spend a lot of time in bed. Without activity, fluids build up in the lungs and become a prime site for infection. Add a weakened immune system and exposure to lots of people (staff, other patients, and visitors), and the risk of infection goes up.

Then, too, the germs in the hospital are very powerful. Many are even resistant to antibiotics.

If your loved one goes into the hospital, there are things you can do to help prevent this dangerous complication:

  • Ask everyone who enters the room to wash their hands. This means friends and family, as well as staff. Hand sanitizer will also do the trick.
  • Stay home if you are sick. Ask the same of well-meaning visitors.
  • Get your relative up and walking asap. Walking is the best way to clear the lungs and engage the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
  • Encourage deep breathing. Ask a hospital staff member to show you and your loved one the proper use of the spirometer. Encourage your relative to use it and track progress.
  • Keep the headboard raised. A 30° angle on the bed is enough to help keep the lungs clear.
  • Ensure good oral hygiene. Brushing teeth and rinsing the mouth at least twice a day gets rid of bacteria that may be on their way to the lungs. Also let the staff know of any mouth sores or cuts, as these need special attention.
  • Ask whether a pneumonia vaccine is appropriate. Depending on your loved one’s condition, immunization history, and likely length of stay, this may be a wise precaution.