5 Pneumonia Complications that are Serious for Seniors

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDFebruary 1st, 2021
Senior coughing

Pneumonia is a lung infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs, causing troubled breathing, fever, cough, chest pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms. While most people are aware of this infection, many don’t realize that pneumonia is quite common and one of the leading causes of hospitalizations in America—especially for seniors. An early diagnosis and prompt treatment could mean the difference between a hospitalized recovery or at-home recovery. In any scenario, mild to severe pneumonia complications can happen and should never be discounted. For older adults, the risk of experiencing serious complications with pneumonia is much higher. With that in mind, here are a few dangerous pneumonia complications that seniors should be aware of: [availability_widget]

1. Pleural Effusion & Respiratory Failure

For seniors with chronic underlying lung diseases like

COPD, breathing can become increasingly difficult with a pneumonia infection. This is particularly true if fluid accumulates around the lungs, building up in the layers of surrounding tissue and the chest cavity—a complication called pleural effusion. In severe scenarios, this serious complication could put you at risk of acute respiratory distress (ARDS), respiratory failure, and hospitalization.

2. Lung Abscess

When pus forms in a lung cavity, an abscess can occur. This is a common and serious pneumonia complication that can significantly impact older adults if not treated. A lung abscess can also lead to the rarer pneumonia complication of lung necrosis (necrotizing pneumonia), which is a consequence of severe lung inflammation that results in critical lung tissue damage.

3. Kidney, Liver & Heart Damage

Your body needs oxygen to function. For older adults, more commonly those with underlying chronic health conditions, pneumonia can cause severe shortness of breath and other respiratory complications that restrict oxygen to the lungs. This complication can cause organ damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart, which is why it’s so important for seniors to get properly diagnosed and treated for pneumonia as soon as possible.

4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

A UTI typically occurs when harmful bacteria invade the kidneys, ureter, bladder, or urethra. Since our immune systems weaken with age, most older adults are already at increased risk for urinary tract infections. A UTI can also be a pneumonia complication, since some types of bacteria that induce the lung infection can spread to other areas of the body, like the urinary tract. Anyone can suffer serious complications from a UTI—especially if it’s left unchecked—but seniors tend to experience escalated complications, including increased risk of sepsis.

5. Sepsis

Sepsis is a particularly dangerous pneumonia complication. A life-threatening condition, it can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death if left untreated. Those with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems are at higher risk of developing sepsis from an infection like pneumonia. Adults over 65, however, are 13 times more likely to be hospitalized with sepsis than any other group.

Acute Care for Elderly Pneumonia Complications

Children, adults, and seniors all experience pneumonia symptoms differently. In many cases, an older adult will experience more subtle symptoms like the worsening of existing health conditions, confusion, dizziness, and sudden changes in mental awareness. At the first sign of complications, you should contact your medical provider. Sudden, lingering chest pain and new respiratory difficulties are particularly worrisome symptoms, especially with a coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis. In some situations, COVID-19 may lead to pneumonia, which can become severe in older adults.


If you’re experiencing emergency symptoms of COVID-19 or pneumonia—such as trouble breathing, persistent pain/pressure in the chest, and new confusion—seek medical care immediately. In these acute care situations, DispatchHealth can help older adults at risk of developing serious pneumonia complications by providing prompt medical treatment in the comfort of their homes. We provide at-home testing, treatment, and patient support for a wide range of illnesses, including:

To learn more about how our teams are responding to the pandemic, click here. To request care from DispatchHealth, simply contact us via phone, mobile app, or website.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/elderly-pneumonia
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/pneumococcal/about/symptoms-complications.html
  4. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pneumonia
  5. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/learn-about-pneumonia
  6. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/pneumonia
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/pneumonia/effects-on-body
  8. https://www.reidhealth.org/blog/what-are-the-symptoms-of-pneumonia
The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

Related Content

DispatchHealth’s APP Fellowship Program Receives Accreditation

DispatchHealth Earns Accreditation with Distinction for Advanced Practice Provider Transition to Practice Fellowship

In sickness & in health

Couple’s Embrace of Home-Centered Healing