Pneumonia (Adult)

Pneumonia is an infection deep in the lungs. It is in the small air sacs (alveoli). It may be caused by a virus, fungus, or bacteria. Pneumonia caused by bacteria is often treated with an antibiotic. Severe cases may need to be treated in the hospital. Milder cases can be treated at home. Pneumonia symptoms are a lot like flu symptoms. They include fever, cough (dry or with phlegm), headache, muscle weakness, and pain. These symptoms often get worse in the first 2 days. But they often start to get better in the first week of treatment.

Illustration showing the position of the lungs and bronchial tubes, with a close up view of an air sac.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Get plenty of rest. Don’t let yourself get overly tired when you go back to your activities. Participate in activities as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Stop smoking. This is the most important step you can take to help treat pneumonia. If you need help stopping smoking, talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Stay away from smoke and other irritants. Stay away from secondhand smoke. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home.

  • Prevent lung infections. Ask your healthcare provider about the flu and pneumonia vaccines. Take steps to prevent colds and other lung infections.

  • Practice correct handwashing. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands. Stay away from crowds during cold and flu season.

  • Use pain medicine as directed. You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control fever or pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or GI (gastrointestinal) bleeding. Don’t give aspirin to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by the provider. Taking aspirin can put a child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most often affects the brain and the liver.

  • Eat a light diet as needed. You may not feel like eating, so a light diet is fine. Follow the treatment plan as advised by your healthcare provider.

  • Drink plenty of water and fluids. This can make mucus thinner and easier to cough up. Ask your healthcare provider how much water you should drink. For many people, 6 to 8 glasses (8 ounces each) a day is a good goal. Other fluids include sport drinks, sodas without caffeine, juices, tea, or soup. If you also have heart or kidney disease, check with your provider before you drink extra fluids.

  • Finish all prescription medicine. Take antibiotic or antiviral medicine as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if you are feeling better after a few days. Take the medicine until it is all gone.

  • Try to stay away from air pollution. If you live in an area with air pollution, track the Air Quality Index (AQI) reports and plan your outdoor activities with the AQI recommendations in mind

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider in the next 2 to 3 days, or as advised. This is to be sure the medicine is helping you get better.

If you are 65 or older, you should get a pneumococcal vaccine and a yearly flu (influenza) shot. You should also get these vaccines if you have chronic lung disease such as asthma, emphysema, or COPD. A second type of pneumonia vaccine is also available for people over age 65 and those younger than 65 with certain health conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider about which pneumococcal vaccine is best for you.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Unable to speak or swallow

  • Lips or skin looks blue, purple, or gray

  • Feeling dizzy or faint

  • Unable to wake up or loss of consciousness

  • Feeling of doom

  • Trouble breathing or wheezing

  • Shortness of breath gets worse or doesn't get better with treatment

  • Rapid breathing (more than 25 breaths per minute)

  • Coughing up blood

  • Chest pain gets worse with breathing or doesn't get better with treatment

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • You don’t get better in the first 2 days of treatment

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Shaking chills

  • Cough with phlegm that doesn't get better, or get worse

  • Shortness of breath with activities

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting that gets worse

  • Thirst or dry mouth that gets worse

  • Sinus pain, headache, or a stiff neck

  • Chest pain with breathing or coughing

  • Symptoms that get worse or not improving

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