7 Infections That Can Land You in the ER

Know your risk

More adults ages 65 and older visit the emergency room each year for an infection than for heart attacks and heart failure combined. A study in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that in 2012 infectious diseases accounted for more than 3 million ER visits by older adults. Knowing the symptoms of infection and seeking prompt medical care before it worsens is the first step toward avoiding a hospital visit. Be aware of the following infectious diseases and their warning signs.

1. Pneumonia

Pneumonia may result from a worsening flu or cold, or from bacteria. Fever with shaking chills, a cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath are symptoms. A pneumonia vaccine is the most important strategy for preventing bacterial pneumonia.

2. Influenza (flu)

The flu typically starts with cold-like symptoms that come on suddenly, often with fever and chills accompanied by muscle aches, headaches, a cough, and a sore throat. Older adults are at increased risk for serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia. An annual flu shot is the best way to avoid the flu.

3. Lower-respiratory tract infections

These affect the airways and the lungs. A cough with mucus, chest tightness, wheezing, fatigue, and body aches may indicate an infection such as bronchitis. Pneumonia and the flu are lower-respiratory infections.

4. Upper-respiratory tract infections

Infections in the upper respiratory tract affect the nose, sinuses, and throat and include the common cold, sinusitis, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. Sneezing and a runny nose, a sore throat, coughing, and fatigue are typical symptoms. If the infection is in your sinuses, you may have facial pain or pressure and a headache.

5. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs stem from bacteria entering the urinary tract. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, frequent or urgent urination, burning or pain when urinating, urine that’s cloudy or reddish or has a bad odor, pressure in the lower belly, and pain in the back or side. Drinking lots of water will help ward off a UTI; cranberry juice may also help.

6. Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection deep in the layers of the skin. Fever and chills; swollen lymph nodes or glands; and skin warmth, tenderness, swelling, or redness, especially in the legs, are common. To avoid cellulitis, care for wounds promptly—wash them with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and watch for signs of infection.

7. Sepsis

Sepsis is a medical emergency triggered by the body’s overwhelming response to another infection, such as pneumonia or a UTI. Seek medical attention immediately if you have symptoms that include shivering, fever, chills, clammy or sweaty skin, shortness of breath, an abnormally fast heartbeat, extreme pain or discomfort, and confusion or disorientation.