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As temperatures drop and trees shed more of those vibrant leaves of autumn, the bite of winter peers at us over the horizon. While some people enjoy the silent beauty and playfulness of snow, others might say the winter season feels more like a Charles Dickens novel: Harsh winds that numb fingers, chattering teeth, and miserable respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.

Pneumonia was a deadly lung infection in the 1800s, but it’s still common today. However, the causes and symptoms of pneumonia aren’t always clear despite the advances in medicine. In 2020, more than 47,000 people died of pneumonia in the United States, and it’s still the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age. [1] Pneumonia is misunderstood and often dismissed when patients aren’t keeled over with rattling coughs and breathing difficulties. In fact, complex illness can also lead to worsening health complications before it’s diagnosed. That was the case for brilliant minds like Toni Morrison, Jim Henson, and Stan Lee, who all died from pneumonia complications.

Clearly, pneumonia is not just an illness for characters in a Charles Dickens novel. With the progression of time, we’ve been able to learn more about the potential causes and symptoms of a pneumonia infection. This article will describe some contributing factors behind respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. It will also explain The Wellness Way Approach to supporting your immune response so it can effectively address pneumonia and similar conditions.

What is Pneumonia?

Breathing is often taken for granted because respiration is an automatic response we don’t have to think about: Our bodies know how to breathe naturally without much effort. However, when it’s a struggle to breathe – or even painful to breathe – the need to breathe naturally dominates every thought. Pneumonia is often described in this way. However, pneumonia is a complex and dangerous illness that can be caused by several different sources. There is no standardized definition or list of symptoms for pneumonia that can apply to everyone: After all, each individual responds to pneumonia differently depending on age, lifestyle behaviors, and other factors.

What Causes Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a contagious infection of one or both lungs spread by droplets in the air through coughing, sneezing, and/or talking. [2] Specifically, inflammation of the air sacs – medically referred to as the alveoli – within the lungs fill up with fluid or pus: This combination of inflammation and fluid within the air sacs interferes with breathing. Unlike other infections labeled as viral and/or bacterial, pneumonia can be classified as either viral, bacterial, or even fungal: Anyone can be infected with pneumonia, with the severity of symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Pneumonia is Categorized as One of Two Types:

  • Healthcare-Associated Pneumonia (HCAP): Lung infection develops after spending time in a healthcare facility such as a hospital, dialysis center, or nursing home for long-term care. [3] Lung infection that is diagnosed as HCAP could also be attributed to the use of a ventilator during the patient’s hospital stay, which is sometimes categorized as Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP). [4]
  • Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP): Pneumonia develops from unknown sources in the community rather than due to a hospital stay. Lung infection labeled as CAP generally develops because of another viral or bacterial infection. [3][4]

Who is Most at Risk for Pneumonia?

The most common and severe cases of pneumonia occur in children younger than 2 and adults older than 65 years of age. [5] Other factors that could increase the risk of pneumonia infection also include:

  • Pre-existing lung or heart conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, emphysema, or pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Neurological conditions that cause difficulty swallowing, such as Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, or a stroke.
  • Cigarette smoking, or anyone with a prior history of cigarette smoking.
  • Pregnant women, due to a decreased lung capacity and increased susceptibility to infections like the flu. [6]
  • Those with a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy treatments, surgery for the recipient of an organ transplant, or those with autoimmune illness.

Picture the lungs as two large sponges with little pockets of air that act like mini balloons as we breathe: When air flows into the lungs through the windpipe – or trachea – these air sacs inflate with that air and allow oxygen to absorb into your blood. Pneumonia can develop when the immune system fights an infection in the air sacs of the lungs and causes inflammation. [7]

The combination of inflammation and fluid could cause the air sacs to rupture and potentially connect to form larger, damaged air sacs. As the infection progresses, more of these air sacs could rupture and interfere with the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream. If the lungs can’t transfer enough oxygen to the rest of the body, each breath can feel like a losing battle. Just like those gears within the Swiss watch, the inability to breathe efficiently would cause a massive disruption to every single system in the body.

What’s the Difference Between Fungal, Viral, and Bacterial Pneumonia?

The direct cause of a pneumonia infection is more complicated than many people realize because it can be derived from three different sources:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi

Each source of the infection contains a unique set of pneumonia symptoms and potential health complications.

Fungal Pneumonia

Many people are unaware that certain types of fungus can cause pneumonia. However, it’s the most common cause of pneumonia development in people with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems. In fact, this type of pneumonia infection – called pneumocystis pneumonia – develops after being exposed to large doses of contaminated soil in certain areas throughout the United States. [8]

Fungal infections are commonly misdiagnosed as bacterial because many healthcare professionals don’t recognize the signs: They also don’t test for fungal infection or take time to dig into a patient’s travel history, especially if antibiotics are ineffective. Antibiotics are useless against fungal infections; however, doctors will prescribe a second round of antibiotics without ruling out other factors first.

About 20% of pneumonia cases in the southwestern areas of the United States are caused by the expanding presence of a fungal disease called coccidioidomycosis – commonly referred to as Valley Fever. [8] However, most of these cases are misdiagnosed for several weeks before patients are tested for fungus-related illnesses, contributing to more health complications.

Viral Pneumonia

Many viruses infecting the upper respiratory tract could infect the lungs and cause a pneumonia infection, such as the common cold and the influenza virus. Among others, these sources are the most common causes of viral pneumonia in adults. [7] However, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one of the most common causes of pneumonia in young children and high-risk babies. Symptoms of pneumonia due to RSV could be life-threatening if untreated. [9]

Bacterial Pneumonia

Some forms of bacterial pneumonia develop after contracting a virus, while others develop because of exposure to bacterial organisms. The most common type of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia, which is caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae organism from the upper respiratory tract. [7]

Bacterial pneumonia can also be caused by organisms like Mycoplasma pneumoniae: Typically referred to as walking pneumonia because of the undetectable mild symptoms, these bacterial organisms typically infect people living and working in crowded conditions. Even though the symptoms of walking pneumonia are mild and often feel like a common cold, they can persist for weeks. Walking pneumonia is extremely dangerous to young children or those with weakened immune responses. [10]

Exposure to the legionella bacterium in contaminated water from cooling towers, city fountains, or hot tubs could also cause the development of bacterial pneumonia infection. Legionella can develop into a serious and very dangerous form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ Disease. [11]

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Symptoms of Fungal Pneumonia

Not all fungal cases of pneumonia are characterized by debilitating symptoms: Some patients never develop symptoms while others experience mild symptoms that go away on their own after a month or two. [12] On average, fungal pneumonia takes more than three weeks after symptoms start to receive an accurate diagnosis. [13] The longer a fungal infection progresses without proper treatment, the more complex and dangerous it becomes for patients with immune disorders and other chronic health conditions.

When symptoms of fungal pneumonia develop, an exposed individual may experience one or more of the following: [8][12]

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Night sweats
  • Muscle aches or joint pain
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rash on the legs or upper body

Symptoms of Viral Pneumonia

Although pneumonia viruses have milder symptoms for healthy adults than bacterial illnesses, the severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people don’t experience symptoms and, therefore, don’t realize they have pneumonia, which can be potentially dangerous as the infection progresses. Most viral pneumonia is not serious and lasts a shorter time than bacterial pneumonia.

Common symptoms of viral pneumonia develop gradually over several days and may include any of the following: [14]

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Dry Cough
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Extreme fatigue

Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia can cause symptoms gradually or suddenly without warning. Common symptoms of bacterial pneumonia could include: [15]

  • High fever: Between 102 and 105F
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea: More common in adults over 65 years old
  • Sweating or chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pain, especially when coughing and/or breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up mucus that is green, yellow, or bloody
  • Bluish lips, nails, or skin: Medically referred to as cyanosis
  • Confusion or an altered mental state: More common in adults over 65 years old

How is Pneumonia Diagnosed?

Typically, medical professionals will determine a diagnosis of pneumonia using the following methods: [16]

  • Medical History: Medical professionals will note a patient’s answers to several questions, including what their symptoms are and when those symptoms began.  They will also want to know whether you have any risk factors for pneumonia in addition to vaccination history, exposure to illness, and any recent travel.
  • Physical Examination: Your medical professional will examine your body for signs of infection: More specifically, signs of inflammation and fluid buildup within the lungs.
  • Chest X-ray and/or CT scan: These internal pictures will give your healthcare provider detailed images of the inside of your lungs and other tissues.
  • Blood Tests: Blood cultures are much more reliable in determining a diagnosis of pneumonia: Doctors can see whether the patient has an infection while also determining if this infection has spread to the bloodstream. Blood tests can also measure the level of oxygen in a patient’s bloodstream.
  • Sputum Culture: If a patient is coughing up any mucous or other fluid, this test measures the coughed-up material for signs of infection in the lungs.
  • Pulse Oximetry: This test measures the amount of oxygen in the blood through a small device clipped onto a patient’s finger.
  • Bronchoscopy: Using a flexible tube, doctors can directly examine the main airways of the lungs – called the bronchi – to diagnose infections within the lungs and take samples of lung tissue for further testing.
  • Pleural Fluid Culture: In severe or recurring cases of pneumonia, doctors will need to use a long syringe to draw fluid out of the space between the lungs and chest wall, called the pleural space. This fluid sample will be tested to determine the specific bacteria responsible for the patient’s pneumonia infection: Because pneumonia can develop from multiple sources, this test will allow doctors to make a more precise diagnosis and plan of treatment. [14][16]

The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare

At The Wellness Way, we talk about the current medical system’s perspective on healthcare versus our perspective, as the “fireman approach” versus the “carpenter approach.”

Medical “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) to take care of people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out during a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish the “flames”: inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.

Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters: They assess the body’s current state with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are some common natural therapies that support the body in healing.

While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in supporting the healing process.

The Current Medical System’s Treatment of Pneumonia:

If the pneumonia infection is bacterial, antibiotics are the most common approach to treatment: However, not all bacteria respond to certain antibiotics. Without detailed lab testing, medical professionals are unaware of the specific bacterium causing the infection and the antibiotic they should use to treat it. Most of the time, doctors will prescribe amoxicillin for bacterial pneumonia: If amoxicillin doesn’t combat the infection at the end of the prescription period, the patient will need more detailed tests to determine the next course of treatment. [17]

Viruses Can’t Be Cured with Antibiotics

Viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotics. If pneumonia is viral, medical doctors will typically recommend over-the-counter medication for pain along with some home remedies: However, this recommendation depends on the severity of symptoms, age, and the presence of any other immune disorders or other chronic illnesses.

Common Medical Treatments for Pneumonia

The standard medical recommendations for easing symptoms of pneumonia may include the following: [17]

  • Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Acetaminophen to control fever
  • Avoid cough-suppressing medications unless the cough prevents you from getting rest: Coughing is your body’s way of clearing infection from the lungs but should not interfere with the body’s ability to rest.
  • Take steamy baths and use a humidifier: A warm bath or shower can open the airway and soothe achy muscles.
  • Drink plenty of warm fluids: Even though adequate hydration benefits the body in many ways, drinking plenty of fluids during a pneumonia infection will loosen mucus in the lungs and help the body cough it out. [18]
  • Stay away from all smoke: Inhaling smoke from tobacco products or firewood can damage your lungs’ natural defenses against infection and cause further inflammation. [2]
  • REST! Your body might be extremely weak when healing from pneumonia because it needs more sleep to repair and heal. Give your body the sleep and rest it needs to recover from pneumonia.

If severe pneumonia is caused by the inhalation of certain fungi, medical doctors will likely prescribe an antifungal medication similar to Amphotericin b. Of course, the type of antifungal medication prescribed depends on the fungus that contributed to the pneumonia infection.

Even when your body recovers from pneumonia, you may still feel fatigued and weak in your muscles. Pneumonia is a lingering illness, and the body might take 1-2 weeks or even a month or more to fully recover. [19]

What Causes Pneumonia? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts

At The Wellness Way, we think differently! The most significant factors contributing to pneumonia are age, history of chronic illness, lifestyle habits, and the body’s immune response to bacteria.

Traumas (Physical Stressors)

Traumas or physical stressors can be acute (like a car accident) or chronic (like being in a physically abusive relationship). Examples of traumas that could contribute to pneumonia infection include the following:

  • Chronic Cough: Violent, persistent coughing could damage the muscles of the diaphragm and lead to scarring of lung tissue.
  • Poor Posture: Slouching over a long period of time decreases your body’s physical space: This decreased physical space compresses the lungs, interfering with the body’s ability to fight infection. [20]
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Car accidents
  • Chronic illness or infection
  • Military combat and injury
  • Surgery

These physical traumas may set off a state of chronic stress within the body, causing an inflammatory reaction and damaging the immune response to bacteria. The physical response to trauma can cause a multitude of reactions to occur within the body as it fights for balance, suppressing a person’s natural defense against a virus or invasive bacteria.

Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)

Toxins are biochemical stressors in the body. Toxicity promotes inflammation and damage to cells in the body, potentially contributing to pneumonia while suppressing the digestive system’s ability to kill bacteria. Examples of toxins that could contribute to pneumonia infections include:

  • Poor Indoor Air Quality – Off-gassing and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) used to sterilize fungi and bacteria from new cars, mattresses, and carpets can damage the lung tissue and lead to mucus buildup. Your beloved “new car scent” that inspired a myriad of air fresheners and candle fragrances is just a release of chemical gas molecules into the air. [21]
  • Excess sugar – Excessive fructose in the body can harm the immune response and cause tissue damage due to the body’s histamine reaction, increasing a person’s risk for pneumonia. [22]
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals – Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are in plastics, personal care products, fragrances, and household items. They disrupt the regulation of several cellular processes, including the upper and lower respiratory tracts.
  • Smoking and Tobacco Use – The carcinogens and other toxins found in tobacco products impair muscle function while damaging fragile lung tissue. [23]
  • Medications – Muscle relaxers, antibiotics, pain relievers, and blood pressure medications could cause a lowered immune response.
  • Food allergies – Healthy foods can act like toxins if you’re allergic to them. Continuing to eat foods that cause a histamine response in the body can lead to chronic inflammation and a lowered immune system response. [24]
  • Gut Dysbiosis – Intestinal dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria) may also contribute to pneumonia susceptibility by weakening the immune response to infection.  [25]

Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.

Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)

Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. Emotional stress is just as powerful (or more powerful) than physical and biochemical stressors in triggering inflammation and imbalance.

Emotional stress can come from the following sources:

  • Relationship issues – Relationships sometimes become toxic and lead to chronic stress. Prolonged stress can affect respiratory function and contribute to respiratory disease, which can damage the lungs’ ability to fight bacteria.
  • Financial stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Holding a grudge/pent-up anger – Holding a grudge creates stress in the body. Chronic stress may show up as inflammation, which can lead to a weakened immune response.
  • A death in the family or a close friend 
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – Patients with PTSD may have a greater risk of infection.

The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body.

The Wellness Way Understanding of Pneumonia

At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We don’t just address symptoms; we run tests to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Essential Tests for Assessing Your Inflammation Levels and Immune Response:

The Wellness Way clinic staff will order more tests based on your health history and what they believe is most relevant.

Home Remedies to Alleviate Pneumonia Symptoms

While these recommendations will not cure a pneumonia infection – especially bacterial or fungal pneumonia – there are some steps you can take to ease pneumonia symptoms and support the body’s healing process.

  • Support Respiratory Health with an Air Purifier – Several studies have found that indoor air purifiers improved respiratory health, especially for people with asthma. [26]
  • Raw Honey – Raw honey can naturally reduce inflammation and fight infections due to its antioxidant properties. It also has soothing properties for a sore throat and can decrease painful coughing. [27]
  • Essential oils – Certain essential oils like eucalyptus oil and those high in menthol and camphor can help to open breathing passages and reduce coughing. [28]
  • Saltwater gargle – Gargling with salt dissolved in warm water is a home flu remedy that may help to break down mucus in the throat and relieve irritation and congestion. [29]

Lifestyle Recommendations for Supporting Immune and Respiratory Health

  • Determine stress-related triggers and adjust – When we are in stress mode, our body is in a state of “fight or flight”. This physiological state is the opposite of where we should be, which is within the “rest and digest” mode. Where is the main source of your stress? Reflect and devise a plan to help you remove the source of chronic stress and/or adjust your response to it. Adjusting the source of your stress and your behavior in response to stress will help support respiratory function.
  • Regular chiropractic care – If your posture is poor, it can create stress and inflammation, potentially damaging the immune response.
  • Regular Exercise – A 20-year study of over 577,000 adults found that those who completed 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week were 36% less likely to die from pneumonia or influenza than those who did not exercise. For people who exercised 301 to 600 minutes per week, the risk was cut in half. [30]

Nutrition Recommendations for Supporting Immune and Respiratory Health

  • Reduce sugar and processed foods – Both increase inflammation and cortisol. These foods can negatively affect the immune response and make the body susceptible to infection.
  • Gluten-free, mostly grain-free foods – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and throughout the body.
  • Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients and antioxidants for a healthy gut microbiome.
  • Avoid cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep-derived milk products may be better tolerated – and even beneficial – for lowering inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the inflammatory response. [31]
  • Eat foods that will support gastrointestinal function – Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha have probiotic effects that can fight harmful bacteria and inflammation.
  • Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. [32]
  • Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
  • Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, and other foods rich in phytochemicals helps keep inflammation under control.

A healthy diet can reduce inflammation and support lung health, but supplements can go further to support overall health.

Supplements to Support The Immune Response and Respiratory Health

Herbal supplements and other nutritional aids can be incredibly beneficial in supporting the function of the immune system and the body’s response to bacteria. The main purpose of supplements should be to focus on supporting proper immune function to avoid pneumonia infection: Supplements alone can’t heal a pneumonia infection. While everyone is different, The Wellness Way might recommend supporting the respiratory and immune systems using one or more of the following supplements:

  • Turmeric Turmeric and its active constituent, curcumin, may protect the cells against oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage.
  • Wellness Zinc Zinc is a crucial mineral for many physiological functions. Most people don’t realize that their zinc levels are deficient. Wellness Zinc supplies the best whole-food form of zinc, consisting of 100% pure oyster powder. [33]
  • Megabiotic Formula – Probiotic supplements like this blend of highly researched strains can help keep infections and inflammation under control in the gut and throughout the body. One study concluded that inflammation was severely reduced after 10 days of probiotic supplementation in patients with COVID-19 interstitial pneumonia. [34]
  • Vitamin D Vitamin D is crucial for supporting the immune system and overall health. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels may contribute to a healthy immune response, potentially reducing the risk and severity of various infections, including pneumonia. [35]
  • OshaDue to its known antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, Osha has been used for centuries to support the body’s response to a variety of respiratory and digestive concerns. [36]
  • Herbal Throat Spray These botanicals blended with bee propolis deliver a variety of throat-soothing and immune-supporting benefits.
  • Chamomile Supports the mucus membrane and soothes the body into a more restful state.
  • Slippery Elm Supports the body with discomfort related to cough while also maintaining the physical barriers of the respiratory system.
  • Mushroom ImmuneMedicinal mushrooms like Reishi and Chaga support immune function and the body’s response to pneumonia-related viruses and bacteria such as the SARS-CoV-2 infection. [37]
  • Japanese Knotweed Native to Japan, China, and Korea, Japanese Knotweed has been used for a variety of ailments, such as bronchitis and cough, inflammation, and infection.
  • EchinaceaIn a 2013 study, a standardized echinacea extract interfered with virus replication and was helpful for supporting the body against respiratory tract infections. [38]

Remember that each person has a unique response to supplements.

Herbal remedies that work for one person may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing risk factors and causes of pneumonia.

DISCLAIMER: Many of these should be a part of a normal daily lifestyle. The Wellness Way is not giving any medical advice. These are simply A Different Perspective on what you can do. You’re more likely to have a healthy immune system when doing these things regularly. These supplements and therapies are not a replacement for any medication. We are carpenter doctors and health restoration coaches, not firemen. If you want medical advice, ask your fireman doctor.   


We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!

Be a well-informed patient! Here are some additional resources about supporting your immune and respiratory system against pneumonia:

Educational Resources

Videos & Webinars Related to Respiratory Health and Immune Response:

Immune System: Why So Much Confusion? | A Different Perspective
Breathe In, Breathe Out | A Different Perspective 

Articles About Immune and Respiratory Health

Vitamin C and the Immune System: Will an Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away?
Influenza: Avoid The “Flu” By Supporting Your Immune Response
Children and Coughs
The Common Cold Doesn’t Have to be Common 


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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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