How Is Pneumonia Treated?
When you get a pneumonia diagnosis, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan. 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 are a smoker 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
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.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: August 16, 2021