Pneumonia | Treatment

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How is pneumonia treated?

Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have, how severe your symptoms are, how healthy you are overall and your age.

For bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. Most of your symptoms should improve within a few days, although a cough can last for several weeks. Be sure to follow your doctor's directions carefully. Take all the antibiotic medicine that your doctor prescribes. If you don't, some bacteria may stay in your body. This can cause your pneumonia to come back. It can also increase your risk of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics don't work to treat viral infections. If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor will likely talk to you about ways to treat your symptoms. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are available to lower fever, relieve pain and ease your cough. However, some coughing is okay because it can help clear your lungs. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you take a cough suppressant.

If a fungus is causing your pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medicine.

If your case of pneumonia is severe, you may need to be hospitalized. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, you may be given oxygen to help your breathing. You might also receive antibiotics intravenously (through an IV). People who have weakened immune systems, heart disease or lung conditions, and people who were already very sick before developing pneumonia are most likely to be hospitalized. Babies, young children and adults who are 65 years of age and older are also at increased risk.

What can I do at home to feel better?

In addition to taking any antibiotics and/or medicine your doctor prescribes, you should also do the following:

  • Get lots of rest. Rest will help your body fight the infection.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Fluids will keep you hydrated and can help loosen the mucus in your lungs. Try water, warm tea and clear soups.
  • Stop smoking if you smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke can make your symptoms worse. Smoking also increases your risk of developing pneumonia and other lung problems in the future. You should also avoid lit fireplaces or other areas where the air may not be clean.
  • Stay home from school or work until your symptoms go away. This usually means waiting until your fever breaks and you aren’t coughing up mucus. Ask your doctor when it’s okay for you to return to school or work.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifier or take a warm bath to help clear your lungs and make it easier for you to breathe.

Will I need to follow up with my doctor?

Your doctor may schedule a follow-up appointment after he or she diagnoses you with pneumonia. At this visit, your doctor might take another chest X-ray to make sure the pneumonia infection is clearing up. Keep in mind that chest X-rays can take months to return to normal. However, if your symptoms are not improving, your doctor may decide to try another form of treatment.

Although you may be feeling better, it’s important to keep your follow-up appointment, especially if you smoke. The infection can still be in your lungs even if you’re no longer experiencing symptoms.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/11
Created: 03/09

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