Know the Facts: Treating and Preventing Pneumonia

By Brendan Furlong, MD, Chief of Service, Emergency Department, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

Cooler temperatures, the changing color of the leaves and shorter days mean along with our beautiful fall weather, our emergency department will see more patients with viral infections and potential complications, including pneumonia.

Common Infection, Serious Consequences

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by fungi, viruses and bacteria, the most common of which are the influenza virus and the pneumococcus bacteria. Pneumonia can become deadly when the lungs’ air sacs become inflamed and fill with fluid, preventing oxygen from reaching vital organs.

At-Risk Populations

Pneumonia triggers mild to severe illness in people of all ages, and it is especially harmful to some. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children younger than five years of age worldwide, and flu and pneumonia were the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States in 2013 among those 65 years and older.

Others susceptible to pneumonia include people who have underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic conditions; smokers; pregnant women; and children and adults with compromised immune systems.

When to See the Doctor

Although it is sometimes difficult to know when a simple cold develops into pneumonia, some clues may include:

  • Sputum-producing cough with deep congestion
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent fever

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, discoloration of the lips, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness or confusion, or signs of dehydration. Call your doctor if your milder symptoms do not improve within four weeks or if they worsen.


Pneumonia is typically treated with antibiotics.

Prevention is Key

Vaccines can help prevent bacterial pneumonia and pneumonia-causing infections such as the flu. Vaccine recommendations vary based on age and medical conditions. Although the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are generally given annually, ask your doctor which vaccines are right for you or your loved ones, based on age, underlying health conditions and other factors that may put you at a higher risk of infection. You can prevent the spread of respiratory infections by covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Self-Care for a Better Recovery

Reduce your chance of getting pneumonia by managing existing medical problems and practicing good health habits: get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress and eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables high in antioxidants and vitamin C.

You can also prevent contracting or spreading respiratory infections by:

  • Washing your hands regularly and disinfecting surfaces
  • Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoiding contact with others who are sick, especially those with a fever

Taking care of yourself every day is an important part of preventing and lowering your risk of infection or further complications from pneumonia and other diseases.

Dr Brendan Furlong
Dr Brendan Furlong

Get more healthcare tips and learn more about our Emergency Department.

Swim Safety Tips for Making the Summer Safe and Fun

Tips for Swim SafetyWith summer just around the corner, most of us will be making plans for a poolside or oceanfront vacation. But before you dive into the aquatic-sports season, make sure you know the basics when it comes to swimming and water safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,400 people in the U.S. die from unintentional drowning each year, and drowning is the sixth-leading cause of accidental deaths for persons of all ages.

Unsafe swimming can also lead to numerous nonfatal injuries, such as concussions and head trauma, spinal cord damage, broken bones, muscle strains and sprains, exhaustion and hypothermia.

Here are some tips for making the swimming season safe and fun:

General Swim Safety

  • Take swimming lessons, or wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket if inexperienced.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Have a phone near the water, and learn how to perform basic lifesaving actions, such as CPR, in case of emergency.
  • Check local weather conditions— never swim during a thunderstorm.

 Pool Safety

  • Walk in or jump—don’t dive—when entering the water for the first time, especially if you can’t see the bottom.
  • Maintain chlorine at recommended levels to protect against E. coli and other dangerous microorganisms that can cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurological and wound infections.
  • Check pool chemical levels regularly. Overuse of chemicals can be harmful, irritating the skin or causing indoor air quality problems.
  • Keep a first aid kit and rescue equipment, such as a life-ring and rope, nearby.

 Beach Safety

  • At the shore, watch for dangerous waves and signs of strong currents. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore. Once free of the current, swim diagonally toward shore.
  • Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards, if possible.

Boating Safety

  • Do not swim or operate a boat if you have been drinking alcohol or if you have taken medication that alters your mental capabilities.
  • If you go boating, wear a life jacket. Most boating fatalities occur from drowning.

If you are injured while swimming, remain calm and signal a lifeguard for help. Call 911 or head straight to the hospital if you experience dizziness or confusion, faintness, breathing problems (often characterized by wheezing or shortness of breath), heart palpitations, a drop in blood pressure or difficulty swallowing.

Spending a day on the water — at a pool, on a boat or at the beach — can be a great source of fun and fitness. But it’s important to make safety a priority to protect yourself and others in and around the water.

For more information about emergency, urgent and trauma care, call 855-546-0863.

Media Contact

Marianne Worley
[email protected]

New Study on Preventing Peanut Allergies

By Tamara Katy, MD, FAAP, MedStar Georgetown Emergency Department Pediatrician

(Washington, DC) - The number of children with peanut allergies is rising rapidly. A 2010 study noted that the rate of peanut allergies in children had more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, an estimated 400,000 school-aged children in the United States are affected.

As a result, many schools have declared their campuses “nut-free,” banning nut products to avoid causing what can be a life-threatening reaction in some children.

Serious Health Risk

To those allergic, peanuts can pose a serious health risk. The most severe reaction can cause anaphylaxis, a sudden and potentially deadly condition that impairs breathing and requires immediate treatment.

Although eating peanuts is the most common way to trigger an allergic reaction, in some cases inhaling peanut powder or dust, or even coming in contact with peanut oil, can cause a reaction.

Allergy Prevention?

Hope may be on the way for parents of some children, however. Results  from a study, Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP), published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015, showed the early introduction of dietary peanuts may prevent peanut allergy among children at high risk.

The study showed that feeding a small amount of peanut products regularly to children between 4 months and 11 months of age reduced their risk of developing the peanut allergy by 80 percent.

My colleagues in pediatric allergy and immunology are understandably excited about this news.

therapy to prevent peanut allergies
“Parents of young children with a known sensitivity should consult with an allergist, pediatrician or general practitioner prior to beginning therapy with peanut products,” cautions Talal M. Nsouli, MD

“This is the first large, prospective study on a possible therapy to prevent the onset of peanut allergy in high-risk infants,” says Sally Joo Bailey, MD, MedStar Georgetown Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Allergy and Immunology. “Until now, there were only observational studies suggesting that this may work.”

While the news excites those of us in the medical field, we still advise a cautious approach for parents.

“Parents of young children with a known sensitivity should consult with an allergist, pediatrician or general practitioner prior to beginning therapy with peanut products,” cautions Talal M. Nsouli, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Allergy and Immunology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. 

“I advise parents not to introduce peanuts into the diet before having children properly tested for food allergies,” he says.

Tips for Parents

1) Know the signs and symptoms of food allergies.

The most common reactions occur within several minutes and up to two hours after eating. 

guaranteed peanut freeSymptoms of Food Allergies

  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Red lips
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth

Symptoms of Severe Anaphylaxis

  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Drop in blood pressure

If your child has any of these symptoms, call your doctor or go to the emergency room for evaluation. If the reaction is mild, your doctor may advise you to treat symptoms with an antihistamine.

Some children may have anaphylactic or severe reactions, which can be fatal. If you suspect a severe reaction, treat with injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) if available, then call 911.

2) Identify the food trigger.

Have your child’s physician diagnose possible food allergies by examining a complete family history, allergy skin testing and blood work. Your child’s physician will devise a treatment plan, including avoiding the food or similar foods that cause the allergy and other first-line treatments, such as an antihistamine, to relieve symptoms.

3) Be prepared and don’t wait.

Children with a peanut or other food allergy should always have an epinephrine injector, such as an EpiPen or AUVI-Q, accessible anywhere they go. Encourage learning proper and safe use with practice kits. Autoinjectors administer life-saving medicine in the event of a severe allergic or anaphylactic reaction and should be used without delay.

Autoinjectors for peanut allergies, anaphalaxis
Autoinjectors can be an immediate resource during a severe allergic reaction, but always call 911 and seek medical attention right away.

Provide your child’s school nurse or teacher with an autoinjector and clear written instructions for proper use (a “Food Allergy Action Plan”) signed by your doctor. Consider having your child wear a MedicAlert bracelet listing any food allergies. 

Living with peanut and other food allergies requires patience and attention. However, with proper education and planning, children with food allergies can enjoy a safe and satisfying diet.


Media Contact

Marianne Worley
[email protected]