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Babylon Health

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs - usually caused by a bacteria or virus. Pneumonia causes the air sacs in your lungs to swell and fill-up with fluid or pus. Pneumonia causes fever, tiredness, and a bad cough with green or yellow mucus.

Anyone can get pneumonia but it’s more common in older people and those with immune system problems. Pneumonia symptoms can range from mild to severe. You’ll usually need antibiotics from your doctor to treat pneumonia. And you’ll want to get plenty of rest and fluids to help you get over the condition.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

  • Breathing problems (shortness of breath)
  • Cough (with yellow or green mucus)
  • Pain with coughing or breathing
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting

The early symptoms of pneumonia are similar to the flu, but may last longer and may include coughing up of mucus or pus, or even coughing up a small amount of blood.

Depending on how severe your pneumonia is, you may experience shortness of breath, painful coughing and breathing, and tiredness too.

Feeling confused and disoriented are symptoms of severe pneumonia, more frequently seen in elderly people, and usually require more immediate attention.

When to See a Doctor

If you have a consistent fever of 102 degrees or higher, persistent painful coughing, coughing up of mucus or pus, shortness of breath, or confusion then it's best to speak to your doctor.

Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency hospital if you (or someone you care for) have:

  • Serious trouble breathing
  • Severe chest pain
  • Loss of consciousness

Pneumonia Diagnosis

The symptoms of pneumonia are similar to the flu, bronchitis or a bad cold, so it can be hard to diagnose. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, take your vital signs and examine your chest by listening to your breathing.

You may need an X-ray, blood or sputum test.

Pneumonia Treatment

The treatment for bacterial pneumonia is usually antibiotics from your doctor. Viral pneumonia may not require antibiotics, but should still be closely evaluated and monitored by your doctor Simple pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce a fever or pain. Your doctor may prescribe a cough medicine to relieve coughing. Don’t smoke, as smoking damages your lungs and can cause complications. Patients often don’t need to be treated in the hospital for pneumonia unless their symptoms are severe.

How to Prevent Pneumonia

Babies, older people and people with certain underlying medical conditions can get a shot to prevent pneumonia caused by some types of bacteria, but these vaccines won’t work against all causes of the illness. A flu shot can also help protect you against pneumonia. It is best to speak to your doctor about pneumonia prevention.

Quit smoking, wash your hands regularly, socially distance yourself from sick individuals, eat healthily and avoid drinking too much alcohol or using drugs to lower the risk of catching pneumonia.


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What does pneumonia feel like?

Pneumonia can make you feel very sick. It often feels similar to the flu. You may feel tired, short of breath and start breathing faster than normal. Your chest may feel tight. Usually, you’ll have a fever and a cough that produces yellow or greenish sputum. Sometimes you may cough up blood.

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How is pneumonia caused?

Pneumonia is usually caused by breathing in a bug such as a bacteria or a virus. Most of the time these germs get trapped in your sputum and your body will clear them without developing an infection. But sometimes the body cannot clear the bugs and they multiply, leading to infection.

Pneumonia can also happen if you breathe in poisonous chemicals, food, drink, vomit, or saliva into your lungs. This is called aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration is likely if something disturbs your gag reflex. Aspiration can happen if you have a brain injury, swallowing problems, or with excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

You’re more likely to catch pneumonia if you’re elderly or have a weak immune system, but healthy people can get pneumonia too. People on breathing machines are particularly at risk of developing pneumonia.

Covid-19 virus can lead to pneumonia, which can become severe. Hospitalization is recommended if your breathing problems become severe. See your doctor if you feel like your breathing is difficult and getting worse.

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Are there early symptoms of pneumonia?

Early symptoms of pneumonia may feel like a regular cold or bronchitis. Fatigue, fever, coughing, shortness of breath are some early indicators of pneumonia. If your symptoms continue to get worse, you start to cough up yellow or green mucus, develop painful coughing or painful breathing, you may be developing pneumonia. See your doctor as soon as possible if you think you have pneumonia. Untreated pneumonia can lead to complications.

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Can pneumonia go away on its own?

Mild pneumonia is usually treated at home with lots of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and over the counter medications to help you feel better. You might be prescribed antibiotics if you have pneumonia caused by a bacteria. How long your symptoms last depends on how serious your pneumonia is. In severe cases, you may need to be treated in a hospital.

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How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

Most people make a full recovery from pneumonia in weeks but it can take longer, depending on your overall health, age, and the severity of symptoms. If you’re taking antibiotics for pneumonia, your symptoms should start to improve after a few days. Let your doctor know if they do not improve. You may need to try a different medicine.

You may feel tired for a few weeks with pneumonia, but if you’re still having other symptoms after three weeks, check with your doctor.

In more serious cases, you may have to go to hospital. Hospital treatment may include antibiotics, fluids through an IV drip, or breathing treatments.

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Is pneumonia contagious and how is it spread?

Pneumonia is often contagious. Some types of pneumonia are more contagious than others. You can spread the germs that cause pneumonia by coughing or sneezing. Aspiration pneumonia (caused by breathing in food or fluids) is not usually contagious.

If you’re given antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia, you’re considered contagious until the second day of taking the medicine and once your fever is gone. If you have viral pneumonia, you may be contagious until you no longer have a fever. You may still experience a cough even though you are no longer contagious.

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Can you have pneumonia without a fever?

Fever is common with pneumonia but not everyone experiences it. Very young children and people with immune system problems may have pneumonia without a fever. Some people get pneumonia and don’t experience a cough or a fever. This is often called walking pneumonia. Severity of symptoms will also play a part in whether or not you get a fever.

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What is walking pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia is a form of pneumonia in which the symptoms do not necessarily interfere with day to day activities. It can be picked up by anyone, and some people might not realize they have pneumonia. It can feel more like a cold. Symptoms can last for a week up to a month.

People with walking pneumonia often continue to go about their normal activities such as school or work without knowing they have pneumonia, but if symptoms do develop or worsen, they should be evaluated by a doctor.

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What antibiotics are used to treat pneumonia?

Penicillin antibiotics are frequently used for treating pneumonia since they are often effective against common bacteria that cause pneumonia, but you may need to take a different antibiotic or more than one antibiotic depending on the type of pneumonia you have, any medication allergies or other medical conditions you may have and how severe your symptoms are. Antibiotics usually help you feel better within about three days, but you should always finish taking your full prescribed course of antibiotics even if you feel better. You should let your doctor know if you are allergic to antibiotics prior to starting any antibiotics or if there is a change in your condition after you start medications.

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Are there different types of pneumonia?

There are different forms of pneumonia like: bacterial, fungal (found in soil or bird dropping), and viral (cold and flu). These different types of pneumonia usually fall under community-acquired pneumonia. Your doctor will diagnose you for a specific type of pneumonia based on your symptoms and environmental exposures.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.