Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that can be mild or life-threatening.


  • Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that causes the air sacs to fill with pus and fluid, making it hard to breathe.

  • The severity of pneumonia ranges from mild, which can be treated at home, to life-threatening which requires hospitalisation.

Certain people are more at risk of developing pneumonia.

These include:

  • Kids under 4 years old

  • Adults over 65 years old 

Young kids and eldery adults are also more likely to have a serious case of pneumonia.

Adults are more at risk of getting pneumonia if they:

  • Have a cold or the flu

  • Have a chronic lung condition

  • Have a compromised immune system

  • Smoking and excessive alcohol 

Kids are more at risk of getting pneumonia if they:

  • Were born prematurely 

  • Have poor nutrition

  • Have a low birth weight

  • Are not breastfed

  • Are around cigarette smoke 

  • Live in a home with poor insulation or heating

  • Live in a damp and/or mouldy home

  • Live in a crowded home

A doctor will usually be able to diagnose pneumonia by reviewing a patient’s medical history and listening to their chest with a stethoscope. Sometimes a chest x-ray may be required.

What causes pneumonia?

  • Pneumonia is normally caused by either bacterial or viral infections. Fungal infections can also cause pneumonia but this is quite rare.

  • Pneumonia in adults is most often caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria,

  • Other kinds of bacteria can also cause pneumonia, including Haemophilus, influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus.

  • Viruses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu viruses are the most common causes of pneumonia in kids.


Pneumonia can develop rapidly over a day or two, or it may come on more slowly, over several days. Symptoms include: 

  • Cough (often with yellow/green phlegm)

  • Fever

  • Shakes and chill

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

  • Chest pain that worsens when breathing or coughing 


  • Antibiotics will treat pneumonia that’s caused by bacteria, but will have no effect on pneumonia that’s caused by a virus.

  • If you’re prescribed antibiotics, it’s important that you finish the course, even if you begin to feel better.

  • Antibiotics with plenty of rest and fluids is usually all that’s required for mild cases of pneumonia.

  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen may also be taken to help with pain and fever.

  • Patients should steer clear of people who are smoking around them and refrain from smoking themselves, as this will irritate the lungs further.

  • People who have more serious cases of pneumonia or are more at risk of developing complications—namely babies, eldery people, and those with other health conditions may need to be hospitalised. 

  • In hospital, patients may receive:

    • Antibiotics through an intravenous drip (into a vein)  

    • Fluids through an intravenous drip

    • Sometimes oxygen to help with breathing


Antibiotics will sometimes be prescribed for pneumonia.

Common over-the-counter medications
  • Paracetamol and ibuprofen can both be purchased over-the-counter

How long does pneumonia last?

Depending on the severity, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for a patient to recover completely from pneumonia

Should I see a doctor?

  • If you have a chest infection that doesn’t seem to be improving, see a doctor

  • Because elderly people and young children are particularly at risk of developing pneumonia, they contact their GP at the first sign of a chest infection

  • If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor:

    • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

    • Skin, lips and nail beds turn a blueish colour

    • Chest pain 

    • Persisting fever 

    • Confusion or disorientation 

Proactive protection

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

  • Stay away from people who have a cold or the flu.

  • Give your body the best chance at fighting off infections by eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.

  • If you’re a smoker—quit. Smoking makes it harder for your lungs to fight infections.

  • Get the annual flu vaccine. (This is not the same as the COVID-19 vaccine.)

  • Get a pneumococcal vaccine—especially if you belong to a high risk group. This may be funded for some people at high risk of pneumonia - ask your GP.

Related conditions

Clinically reviewed by: Dr Mataroria Lyndon
Date of review: 5th August 2022