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It's not just a cold: How to identify if you've got Pneumonia

Mar 12, 2012, 9 a.m.

Let's face it, a cold makes you want to crawl back into bed, get under the covers, and watch never-ending reruns.

As you clutch your pounding head, stare at the white abyss of tissues on the floor, and cough up stuff you can't fathom was produced by your own body, you wonder if you just have a cold or something worse. Either way, you're sure thankful they invented those moisture-laden tissues they sell now. But while a cold is a nuisance, it's a simple illness that typically runs its course.

On the other hand, pneumonia is a whole different animal -- and one that shouldn't be provoked for that matter. While a cold is caused by a virus, potentially-lethal pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection. To get mildly technical here, pneumonia is an infection of the tiny air sacs in the lungs and the bronchial tubes.

The good news is that pneumonia is very treatable (with antibiotics), provided it is caught early. There's also protection available against certain types of pneumonia infections. It's called the pneumonia vaccine; and if you're elderly or have a chronic lung condition, ask your doctor if you should get it.

Now, there are some tell-tale clues that indicate the differences between pneumonnia and a cold. For one thing, coughing up green or rust-colored mucus or blood indicate it's most likely more than a cold -- as this is one of the most common symptoms of pneumonia. Feeling chest pain when coughing or breathing deeply is another sign of pneumonia. Undoubtedly, high fever, chills and clammy skin are indications of pneumonia. A pounding head and extreme fatigue is too. Breathing rapidly, not having an appetite, and mental confusion also signal pneumonia rather than a cold.

Pneumonia is no fun. Besides making you feel horrible, the recovery time can take weeks or even months -- depriving you of all your favorite activities. This includes eating because you won't feel much like chowing down, let alone dining out. And who wants that?

Complications of pneumonia can result in a collapsed lung, or even death. So, in all seriousness, don't take pneumonia lightly.

All joking aside, pneumonia is a serious beast. It deserves all the respect it demands. If you have any of the above symptoms of pneumonia, get yourself to the doctor as soon as possible.

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