Pneumonia (Child)

Pneumonia is an infection deep within the lungs. It may be caused by a virus or bacteria.

Symptoms of pneumonia in a child may include:

  • Cough

  • Fever

  • Vomiting

  • Rapid breathing

  • Fussy behavior

  • Poor appetite

Pneumonia caused by bacteria is usually treated with an antibiotic. Your child should start to get better within 2 days on antibiotic medicine. The pneumonia will go away in 2 weeks. Pneumonia caused by a virus won't respond to antibiotics. It may last up to 4 weeks.

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 your child at home.

Fluids

Fever makes your child lose more water than normal from his or her body. For babies younger than 1 year:

  • Continue regular breast or formula feedings.

  • Between feedings give oral rehydration solution as told to by your child’s healthcare provider. The solution is available at groceries and drugstores without a prescription. 

For children older than 1 year:

  • Give plenty of fluids like water, juice, sodas without caffeine, ginger ale, lemonade, fruit drinks, or ice pops.

Feeding

It’s OK if your child doesn’t want to eat solid foods for a few days. Make sure that he or she drinks lots of fluid.

Activity

Keep children with fever at home resting or playing quietly. Encourage frequent naps. Your child may go back to day care or school when the fever is gone and he or she is eating well and feeling better.

Sleep

Periods of sleeplessness and irritability are common. A congested child will sleep best with his or her head and upper body raised up. Or you can raise the head of the bed frame on a 6-inch block.

Cough

Coughing is a normal part of this illness. A cool mist humidifier at the bedside may be helpful. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines have not been proved to be any more helpful than a placebo (sweet syrup with no medicine in it). But these medicines can cause serious side effects, especially in children under 2 years of age. Don’t give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children younger than 6 years unless the healthcare provider has specifically told you to do so.

Don’t smoke around your child or allow others to smoke. Cigarette smoke can make the cough worse.

Nasal congestion

Suction the nose of infants with a rubber bulb syringe. You may put 2 to 3 drops of saltwater (saline) nose drops in each nostril before suctioning. This will help remove secretions. Saline nose drops are available without a prescription. 

Medicine

Use acetaminophen for fever, fussiness, or discomfort, unless another medicine was prescribed. You may use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen in babies older than 6 months. If your child has chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your child’s provider before using these medicines. Also talk with the provider if your child has had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding. Don’t give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage.

If an antibiotic was prescribed, keep giving this medicine as directed until it is used up. Do this even if your child feels better. Don’t give your child more or less of the antibiotic than was prescribed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider in the next 2 days, or as advised, if your child is not getting better.

If your child had an X-ray, a radiologist will review it. You will be told of any new findings that may affect your child’s care.

When to seek medical advice

Unless advised otherwise by your child’s healthcare provider, call the provider right away if:

  • Your child has pneumonia caused by bacteria and has a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) for more than 48 hours after starting antibiotics

Also call your child’s provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fast breathing. For birth to 2 months old, more than 60 breaths per minute. For 2 months to 12 months old, more than 50 breaths per minute. For 1 to 5 years old, more than 40 breaths per minute. Older than 5 years, more than 20 breaths per minute.

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Earache, sinus pain, stiff or painful neck, headache, or repeated diarrhea or vomiting

  • Unusual fussiness, drowsiness, or confusion

  • New rash

  • No tears when crying, “sunken” eyes or dry mouth, no wet diapers for 8 hours in babies or less urine than normal in older children

  • Pale or blue skin

  • Grunts

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