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.
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)
Shakes and chill
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Loss of appetite
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
Confusion or disorientation
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.
Clinically reviewed by: Dr Mataroria Lyndon
Date of review: 5th August 2022