Pneumonia Treatment and Recovery

When you get a pneumonia diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan.

How Is Pneumonia Treated?

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia you have, how sick you are feeling, your age, and whether you have other health conditions. The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and prevent complications. It is important to follow your treatment plan carefully until you are fully recovered.

Take any medications as prescribed by your doctor. If your pneumonia is caused by bacteria, you will be given an antibiotic. It is important to take all the antibiotic until it is gone, even though you will probably start to feel better in a couple of days. If you stop, you risk having the infection come back, and you increase the chances that the germs will be resistant to treatment in the future.

Typical antibiotics do not work against viruses. If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat it. Sometimes, though, symptom management and rest are all that is needed.

Most people can manage their symptoms such as fever and cough at home by following these steps:

  • Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
  • Do not take cough medicines without first talking to your doctor. Coughing is one way your body works to get rid of an infection. If your cough is preventing you from getting the rest you need, ask your doctor about steps you can take to get relief.
  • Drink warm beverages, take steamy baths and use a humidifier to help open your airways and ease your breathing. Contact your doctor right away if your breathing gets worse instead of better over time.
  • Stay away from smoke to let your lungs heal. This includes smoking, secondhand smoke and wood smoke. Talk to your doctor if you use tobacco products and are having trouble staying smokefree while you recover. This would be a good time to think about quitting for good.
  • Get lots of rest. You may need to stay in bed for a while. Get as much help as you can with meal preparation and household chores until you are feeling stronger. It is important not to overdo daily activities until you are fully recovered.

If your pneumonia is so severe that you are treated in the hospital, you may be given intravenous fluids and antibiotics, as well as oxygen therapy, and possibly other breathing treatments.

Recovering from Pneumonia

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Recovery from serious lung infections, such as pneumonia, can take longer than you expect. Learn what you can do to help your body recover, when to reach out to your healthcare provider and how to help prevent future infections.

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Recovery from a serious lung infection may take longer than you expect. It can take weeks, or even months, before you are feeling back to normal. How long you feel sick depends on several factors including the severity of your infection your age, and your overall health status. It’s important to not get discouraged but gradually take steps each day to help your body recover.

An upper respiratory infection may affect your sinuses and throat. A lower respiratory infection may affect your airways but primarily impacts your lungs. Lower respiratory infections tend to be more serious and require longer recovery. Pneumonia is the most common respiratory infection but there are many others. One thing all lower respiratory infections have in common is inflammation. Fluid buildup and cell debris in the airways can take time to clear. The symptoms you are feeling, such as cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath may linger as you heal.

Signs and symptoms to watch for and report back to your healthcare provider include if your fever returns, you experience chest pain or worsening shortness of breath or if you develop any new symptoms that concern you. While you are waiting for your body to recover, focus on taking the medications your healthcare provider has prescribed and good health practices – such as lots of rest so your body can recover, fluids to keep the mucus in your lungs thin, good food so your body has energy to heal. It is important to keep your vaccinations up to date and any chronic health conditions well managed to help prevent future respiratory infections.

Given enough time and care, you will hopefully be feeling like yourself again soon.

Learn more at Lung.org.

It may take time to recover from pneumonia. Some people feel better and are able to return to their normal routines within a week. For other people, it can take a month or more. Most people continue to feel tired for about a month. Adequate rest is important to maintain progress toward full recovery and to avoid relapse. Don't rush your recovery! Talk with your doctor about when you can go back to your normal routine.

While you are recovering, try to limit your contact with family and friends, to help keep your germs from spreading to other people. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough, promptly dispose of tissues in a closed waste container and wash your hands often.

If you have taken antibiotics, your doctor will want to make sure your chest X-ray is normal again after you finish the whole prescription. It may take many weeks for your X-ray to clear up.

Possible Pneumonia Complications

People who may be more likely to have complications from pneumonia include:

  • Older adults or very young children.
  • People whose immune system does not work well.
  • People with other, serious medical problems such as diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver.

Possible complications include:

  • Respiratory failure, which requires a breathing machine or ventilator.
  • Sepsis, a condition in which there is uncontrolled inflammation in the body, which may lead to widespread organ failure.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe form of respiratory failure.
  • Lung abscesses, which are infrequent, but serious complications of pneumonia. They occur when pockets of pus form inside or around the lung. These may sometimes need to be drained with surgery.

Questions?

Talk to our experts at the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine. Our service is free and we are here to help you by phone, web chat or email.
Contact the Helpline

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: November 17, 2022

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