What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection affecting the lungs. It causes inflammation in the alveoli (microscopic air sacs in the lungs) which fill with fluid, causing breathing difficulties and a cough amongst other symptoms. This is because the lungs are not as effective at absorbing oxygen. Pneumonia can be caused by a bacterial, fungal, viral or parasitic infection. It can also be a complication of a viral infection like a cold or flu.

Babies and people with lowered immunity and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia. Diagnosis is usually made by listening to the chest with a stethoscope and general examination - or, at the hospital, a chest X-ray and tests on a sample of sputum (the mucous brought up with the cough, which can be sent to the lab to find out the cause).

What are the symptoms of Pneumonia?

Common symptoms of pneumonia can include any or a combination of the following:

  • sudden high fever (temperature of 38°C or higher)
  • shivering or sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • shallow, rapid breathing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • loss of appetite
  • chest pains, especially on breathing

Less common symptoms include:

  • productive cough with yellow, green or blood-stained mucus
  • aches and pains
  • headache
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • confusion

If you suspect your baby has pneumonia, you should call the doctor or take her to the hospital immediately. Symptoms in babies include:

  • a persistent cough, producing stained mucus - a fever (temperature of 38°C or higher)
  • reluctance or refusal to feed
  • a whistling or wheezing sound on breathing
  • shallow, rapid breathing
  • blue tinged fingernails and lips.

In elderly people, symptoms can be less obvious and confusion accompanied by fever might be the only indication. Seek prompt medical advice to be on the safe side.

What are the treatments and remedies of Pneumonia?

In mild cases of pneumonia if it's bacterial, the only treatment needed is a course of antibiotics as well as plenty of rest and an increase in fluid intake. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can ease fever and pain. For people with other health conditions or who develop complications, treatment in hospital might be necessary. Babies, toddlers and elderly people are most likely to need hospital admission as they're amongst the most vulnerable, and in some cases pneumonia can be life-threatening. Treatment is likely to be intravenous antibiotics and fluids. Even after the infection has cleared, the cough can takes weeks to clear, and it's common to feel exhausted until you're fully recovered.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net