Opioids Could Weaken Pneumonia Immunity

opioids linked to pneumoniaPneumonia is no joke. As a bacterial infection in the lungs, pneumonia often produces shortness of breath and coughing, as well as a fever.  A pneumococcal vaccine is available for anyone over the age of 2.

Who needs pneumonia protection?

The pneumonia vaccine is recommended for everyone 65 or older, as well as those who are high risk, including people:

  • with heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, alcoholism, diabetes, cirrhosis, cochlear implants, and leaks of cerebrospinal fluid
  • with sickle cell disease
  • who have had their spleen removed
  • who live in nursing homes (extended-care facilities)
  • who live in any institution where there are other people with long-term health problems
  • with conditions that weaken the immune system, such as cancer, HIV, or an organ transplant
  • who receive long-term medicines that suppress the immune system, including steroids
  • Alaskan natives and certain Native American populations over age 50 who live in high-risk areas

Is the pneumococcal vaccine fool-proof?

Even when you are proactive about preventing disease with a vaccine, it’s important to stay educated about the best way to keep the disease at bay. This proved true in a 2011 study from researchers at Group Health Research Institute and the University of Washington (UW) who found, when testing 3,061 adults, ages 65-94, that opioids are linked to a higher risk of pneumonia in older adults.

Opioids weaken immunity to pneumonia

Researchers think this happens because opioids (pain relieving pills) can harm the immune system, weakening its defenses against pneumonia. As you can see above, people prone to disease or disorders are already more susceptible to pneumonia, so it is very important to note how opioids could affect these individuals. In this study, researchers found that benzodiazepines (drugs usually given for insomnia and anxiety) do not have the same relationship with pneumonia.

This study is groundbreaking in exploring how opioids might contribute to pneumonia…and other medical issues. Physician and study investigator Dr. Dublin said, “our results mean that it is crucial to look more closely at opioid prescriptions and infections.”

With all of our vaccines, we’re hoping prevention will trump treatment. But don’t let your disease prevention stop at the shot. Keep reading and learning about how to keep yourself pneumonia free!