Identifying signs of an infection early is important for anyone. But if you have pulmonary fibrosis, it is especially critical. People with pulmonary fibrosis already have compromised lung function, and an infection can make things worse.
If you develop an infection, such as the flu, pneumonia or even a cold, it can make breathing more difficult. Plus, people with pulmonary fibrosis are more likely to develop complications from respiratory infections than those without underlying lung disease. While some people think the flu results in stomach symptoms such as nausea and vomiting it is actually an upper respiratory illness. Per the CDC the influenza virus can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. There are several different causes of pneumonia but the most common cause is a bacteria called Pneumococcus. The pneumonia vaccine is designed to prevent pneumonia caused by Pneumococcus.
Recognizing signs of an infection early allows you to get treatment as soon as possible. It may prevent an infection from becoming worse and decrease your chances of developing complications.
Consider Keeping a Log
Sometimes you recognize when you’re starting to feel under the weather. But in other cases, symptoms are so subtle that you may not realize you’re getting sick until you are in the thick of an infection.
Keeping a log helps you know what your baseline measurements are, which allows you to determine when something is off. A log is one more tool to help you identify an infection may be developing.
It’s best to take your measurements at the same time each day for consistency. Consider monitoring the following:
Temperature: Take your temperature first thing in the morning before drinking or eating anything. Determine what is “normal” for you. If you have an increase in temperature, it could be a sign of infection.
Oxygen level: Talk to your doctor about whether you should monitor your oxygen saturation level daily. Monitoring your oxygen level daily helps you determine your baseline. Oxygen levels can decrease if you develop a respiratory infection, such as pneumonia.
Weight: Weigh yourself first thing in the morning every day. People with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis can develop fluid retention. Fluid often accumulates in the legs and possibly the abdomen. Rapid weight gain in a short time can be a sign of fluid retention. Consider notifying your doctor if you gain more than three pounds in 24 hours.
Recognize Symptoms of an Infection
It’s common for people with pulmonary fibrosis to already have many of the same symptoms that can also occur with an infection, such as the flu. But typical IPF symptoms may worsen if an infection is brewing. In addition to the signs above, common symptoms of an infection include the following:
Increased fatigue: Fatigue and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis often go hand in hand. But if you feel an increase in fatigue, it might be a sign that you’re getting sick.
Increased cough: Although coughing is a common symptom of IPF, it is often a dry cough. If the type of cough you have has changed, such as you experience an increase in mucus, it could be an indication you are coming down with something.
Increased shortness of breath: Many people with pulmonary fibrosis experience some degree of shortness of breath. But if you are getting a respiratory infection, trouble breathing may increase.
Don’t be in Denial
Avoid taking a wait and see approach. Some people think they may be getting sick, but decide to give it a few more days to see what happens. The problem with this approach is by the time you “wait and see,” you may be in the middle of an infection. What may have just required a short course of steroids or possibly antibiotics can require more intense treatment if it is not caught early.
If you feel something is off, or have signs of an infection, it’s best to err on the side of caution. A call to your doctor is not going to hurt and it may help prevent complications. In some cases, worsening symptoms may be a sign of an exacerbation of IPF symptoms and not an infection. But early detection can also prevent an exacerbation from becoming worse.
Content written by Dr. Jeremy Feldman, an expert in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, with contributions by MaryAnn DePietro, B.S. CRT, a licensed respiratory therapist.