patient waiting to speak with doctorChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia both affect the lungs and often display similar symptoms. COPD is a group of diseases that block airflow and make breathing more difficult. Should a person with COPD contract pneumonia, there is a higher likelihood of complications like respiratory failure.

Pneumonia is a group of bacteria, viral and fungal infections. Fluid-filled air sacs develop within the lungs that impact breathing and the amount of oxygen passing through the body. If left untreated, this can prove to be fatal. Symptoms of this condition include shortness of breath, an extended period of congestion, coughing up mucus, fever, chills and fatigue.

Considering these factors, it’s crucial for pneumonia to be detected early in those with COPD to improve outcome, lessen lung damage and complications.

How Complications Occur

COPD affects lung performance. People who have this condition experience at least one of the following conditions:

  • Emphysema: Can weaken and eventually destroy the air sacs and affect how much oxygen the body receives.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: Affects airways by generating larger amounts of mucus and inflammation.

In addition to these factors, COPD weakens the respiratory system and increases chances of developing pneumonia. As it progresses, pneumonia symptoms tend to mirror COPD. As a result, patients may delay treatment or the condition is misdiagnosed by a doctor.

Overlapping symptoms include shortness of breath and chest tightness. Experiencing a high fever, chills, shaking, headaches, body aches and more intense chest pain are also signs of pneumonia.

Along with these symptoms, mucus may indicate pneumonia. Normally, the sputum coughed up from your lungs is white. When pneumonia is present, it appears green, yellow or may have spots of blood.


By delaying pneumonia treatment, patients with COPD may experience:

  • Permanent damage to the lungs and other organs
  • Worsened breathing
  • Acute respiratory failure
  • Irreversible damage to the kidneys, brain, cardiovascular system

Pneumonia Diagnosis

For COPD patients showing signs of pneumonia, a doctor may request X-rays or a CT scan, blood work and a sample of sputum to diagnose the condition.

As COPD medications have no effect on pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics, both in the hospital and to continue taking orally once you return home
  • Glucocorticoid steroids to reduce inflammation and help you breathe better
  • Medications to improve your breathing, given by a nebulizer or inhaler
  • A ventilator or oxygen supplementation system to deliver more oxygen to your body

Lessening Risks of Pneumonia

To reduce your chances of getting pneumonia, people with COPD are recommended to:

  • Thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water regularly
  • Get vaccinated for the flu, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and whooping cough
  • Effectively manage COPD, including taking all medications as prescribed and being mindful of medication interactions, including from over-the-counter products
  • Quit smoking, as it can damage the immune system
  • Avoid people diagnosed with the flu and other respiratory infections

Our medical professionals help residents manage their COPD symptoms and respond to early signs of pneumonia. To learn more about how our services could benefit your loved one, contact us today.