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Pneumonia: Why Does it Take So Long to Recover?


With 2016 in our rear view mirrors and the start of 2017 still in its infancy, it is only fitting to try and be optimistic about what lays ahead. Whether we a talking about politics, war or more pressing matters at home, the start of a new year is a time for new beginnings. And while that is all fine and good, sadly, it doesn’t change the fact the start of the year is also prime time for winter ailments; known of which are as notoriously dreaded as pneumonia.

For those who might not be aware, pneumonia is a lung inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection, in which the air sacs fill with pus and may become solid. Thankfully, modern medicine has discovered cures and treatment options for this particularly nasty infection, however, it does little to help the often unexpected “recovery period” that follows falling ill – and it can take a while.

When a person becomes diagnosed with pneumonia, typically, their doctor will give them a round of antibiotics to combat and kill the bacteria, which is usually Streptococcus pneumonia. Sometimes called pneumococcus, this specific pathogen is the most common cause of what is known as “community-acquired pneumonia,” is the most common type of pneumonia that people get outside of nursing homes and hospitals.

While this treatment is a highly effective way to combat and kill pneumonia causing bacteria, the battle with pneumonia rarely seems to end there. Most doctors, upon prescribing the antibiotics will also tell their patients to expect a few weeks up to a couple of months of recovery time. This, however, begs the question of the validity of this recommendation – and we are here to tell you that research backs it up.

According to the Washington Post, one study followed 576 adult patients with community-acquired pneumonia. Thirty days after diagnosis, 65 percent of them reported fatigue, nearly half of whom said their fatigue was moderate to severe; 53 percent reported a cough and 36 percent reported shortness of breath. Ninety days after diagnosis, 51 percent reported fatigue, 32 percent cough, and 28 percent shortness of breath.

But why?

One reason for this prolonged recovery period is the detritus from an infection of the lungs is particularly hard to clear. The antibiotics you take will likely kill the bacteria, however, what is left behind is all the mucus that your body used to fight the infection.

“Your clearance mechanisms have to take all that stuff out,” says Steven Simpson, acting director of the division of pulmonary disease and critical care medicine at the University of Kansas. Your airways are lined with hairlike cilia that consolidate microbes and mucus and help move it toward the exit.

“It literally takes a lot of energy to keep yourself going with all that stuff in your lungs,” Simpson says.

So while a diagnosis of pneumonia is never the desired one, and the thought of a prolonged recovery period a less than perfect scenario, it is always beneficial to take your doctor’s advice. Besides,, who couldn’t use a couple of extra days in bed?