What is pneumonia?


Pneumonia in children: Overview

Pneumonia is a serious lung infection usually caused by viruses or bacteria. Viruses cause most cases of pneumonia in children. The illness may be mild to severe.

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your child has bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotics do not help viral pneumonia. In those cases, antiviral medicine may be used.

Rest, over-the-counter pain medicine, healthy food, and plenty of fluids will help your child recover at home. Mild pneumonia often goes away in 2 to 3 weeks. Your child may need 6 to 8 weeks or longer to recover from a bad case of pneumonia.


Pneumonia is a lung infection that can make you very sick. You may cough, run a fever, and have a hard time breathing. It can usually be treated at home, but some people need to go to the hospital.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or a virus. Antibiotics are used to treat pneumonia caused by bacteria.

What happens when you have pneumonia?

After you've been infected with pneumonia, symptoms usually develop within a few days to sometimes over a week. The infection can grow in the lungs and cause shortness of breath, cough, and fever.

How severe pneumonia is and how long it lasts depends on many factors. These include your age, the type of pneumonia (bacterial or viral), and your overall health.

In healthy people, pneumonia can be a mild illness that is hardly noticed and clears up in 2 to 3 weeks. In older adults and in people with other health problems, recovery may take 6 to 8 weeks or longer.

If you have severe pneumonia, you may have to go to the hospital.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Symptoms of pneumonia may include a cough, a fever, shortness of breath, or the chills. You may feel very tired or very weak. Or you may have chest pain that often feels worse when you cough or breathe in.

How is pneumonia treated?

Pneumonia that is caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. Rest, fluids, and medicines to reduce fever can help you feel better. If your symptoms are bad or you have a weak immune system, you may need hospital care. If pneumonia is caused by a virus, antibiotics don't help.

How can you prevent pneumonia?

To help prevent pneumonia, get the recommended pneumococcal vaccines and a yearly flu vaccine. And stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. Wash your hands often to prevent spreading viruses and bacteria that may cause pneumonia. Taking care of your teeth and gums may help prevent some types of pneumonia.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. Your doctor may order a chest X-ray and blood tests. This is usually enough for your doctor to know if you have pneumonia. You may need more tests if your symptoms are bad or you have other health problems.

Pneumonia: Self-Care

What increases your risk for pneumonia?

You are more likely to get pneumonia if you:

  • Smoke cigarettes.
  • Have another medical condition, especially lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.
  • Are younger than 1 year of age or older than 65.
  • Have an impaired immune system.
  • Drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Recently had COVID-19, a cold, or the flu.

You are more likely to have complications of pneumonia and need to go to the hospital if you:

  • Are older than 65.
  • Have some other illness (such as COPD, diabetes, or asthma), or have gone to the hospital for a medical problem within the last 3 months.
  • Have had your spleen removed or do not have a working spleen (such as with sickle cell disease).
  • Have an alcohol use problem.
  • Have a weak immune system.
  • Live in a place where people are close together, such as a college dorm or nursing home.

How does pneumonia spread to others?

If your pneumonia is caused by a virus or bacteria, you may spread the infection to other people while you are contagious. When you cough or sneeze, pneumonia is spread to others through infected air particles. How long you are contagious depends on what is causing the pneumonia and whether you get treatment. You may be contagious for several days to a week.

If you get antibiotics, you usually can't spread the infection to others after a day of treatment.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can make you very sick. You may cough, have a fever, and have trouble breathing. It often clears up in a few weeks with treatment. It can usually be treated at home. But some people, like older adults and babies, may need to go to the hospital.

What causes pneumonia?

Germs called bacteria or viruses usually cause pneumonia. Pneumonia usually starts when you breathe the germs into your lungs. You may be more likely to get it after having a cold or the flu. Having a chronic disease like asthma, COPD, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes also makes you more likely to get pneumonia.

Pneumonia in teens: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You cough up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You have a new rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You cough more deeply or more often, especially if you notice more mucus or a change in the color of your mucus.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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