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How to treat pneumonia

Old woman holding ginger cat
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Pneumonia is a serious condition that causes inflammation in the air sacs of the lungs. In mild cases it can be treated at home, however it sometimes requires hospitalisation, particularly in the elderly or people who have long-term health conditions.

You can find out more about how pneumonia is treated as we answer many of your frequently asked questions.

What is the best treatment for pneumonia?

The standard treatment for mild pneumonia is a five-day course of antibiotics, taken in tablet form at home. In more severe cases of bacterial pneumonia, the patient may have to go to hospital and have antibiotics administered via a drip.

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for pneumonia because most cases are caused by a bacterial infection (such as Streptococcus pneumoniae or Haemophilus influenzae). If the pneumonia is not caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will not be prescribed. In the case of a viral infection, an antiviral may sometimes be an appropriate treatment.

Which antibiotics treat pneumonia?

The type of antibiotic you are prescribed will depend upon your medical history and the nature of your condition. Most patients who receive treatment for mild bacterial pneumonia will receive a commonly prescribed antibiotic such as doxycycline or amoxicillin.

You should contact your doctor if your symptoms do not start to improve after three days of antibiotic treatment. This can be a sign that you need a different antibiotic, or that the cause of your pneumonia is viral rather than bacterial.

Is there a pneumonia vaccine?

At LloydsPharmacy we offer a private pneumococcal vaccination in store for anyone over the age of 18, watch our video to find out more. 

 

How bad does pneumonia have to be for hospitalisation?

You might need to be hospitalised if your symptoms do not improve after taking antibiotics at home, or if you begin to feel more unwell. If you are in a high-risk group for pneumonia, your doctor may decide that you require hospitalisation as a precaution.

You should ring 999 or attend A&E immediately if you:

  • Are finding it hard to breathe
  • Have been coughing up blood
  • Feel cold and sweaty, with pale, blotchy skin
  • Have a rash that doesn’t fade under a glass
  • Have fainted
  • Have become confused or suddenly very drowsy
  • Have stopped urinating regularly

How do you treat “walking pneumonia”?

Walking pneumonia is an informal term for very mild pneumonia that doesn’t require hospitalisation and may not even require any medical treatment. It is usually caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae and can be effectively treated with antibiotics and bed rest.

How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

It can take a long time to fully recover from the effects of pneumonia. If your condition has been caused by a bacterial infection, starting antibiotic treatment should improve your condition. After a week or so, you should find that the worst of your symptoms have passed, however you may continue to feel unwell for weeks or months afterwards.

The average person who experiences pneumonia and is treated with antibiotics should find their symptoms improve in the following stages:

  • One week on: fever subsided
  • Four weeks on: chest pain and mucus production subsided
  • Six weeks on: coughing and breathlessness subsided
  • Three months on: most symptoms gone, but still feeling tired
  • Six months on: back to normal health

How can I recover from pneumonia faster?

If your doctor confirms that you have a mild case of pneumonia, you should treat pneumonia as you would a serious bout of cold or flu. Stay home, get plenty of rest, and drink fluids to stay hydrated and keep the mucus in your lungs loose. You should aim to drink six to eight cups of fluid (e.g. water, milk, squash, tea) each day.

You can also take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen – these will not help you recover faster, but they will ease symptoms such as fever and chest pain. It’s not recommended that you take cough medicines as there is little evidence to suggest that they are effective.

If you are a smoker, you should give up smoking while you are recovering from pneumonia and should aim to not smoke cigarettes once you are healthy again. We have an in-store service as well as stop smoking products that could help you cut down or quit smoking.

Is coughing good for pneumonia?

Coughing is a key symptom of pneumonia, and may bring up discoloured phlegm that is green, yellow or bloody. Though coughing can be painful and unpleasant, it is your body’s natural response to the illness, and helps to clear the lungs of mucus. For this reason, it’s not recommended that you suppress your cough with cough medicines.

How do you sleep when you have pneumonia?

It can be difficult to sleep when you have pneumonia. You may be kept awake by having to cough, struggling to breathe, or feeling feverish. To combat these symptoms, try the following:

  • Take paracetamol before you go to sleep to help ease your fever
  • Drink lots of water to loosen the mucus in your lungs
  • Try lying on your side with your head propped up on pillows, your bottom leg slightly bent, and your top leg straight (this can help with breathlessness)

What food is good for pneumonia?

You might find your appetite is affected by pneumonia, but it’s important to try and maintain a healthy diet while you’re recovering. You should consume lots of fruits and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates (high fibre and wholegrain varieties where possible), and lean protein. It’s also important to drink plenty of water so you don’t become dehydrated, and you keep the mucus in your lungs loose.

You should aim to eat a balanced diet containing all the nutrients your body needs to fight infection and recover effectively – for more inspiration, have a look at our healthy eating guide.

How do you treat pneumonia in kids?

Pneumonia in children is treated in a similar way to adults. If your child is experiencing any of the pneumonia symptoms it is important that you contact your GP or NHS 111 to seek further advice. 

Pneumonia vaccination

References

www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng165/chapter/4-Managing-suspected-or-confirmed-pneumonia#antibiotic-treatment
www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng138/chapter/Recommendations#treatment-for-adults-young-people-and-children
www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/breathlessness/how-to-manage-breathlessness/positions-for-obstructive-lung
www.nhs.uk/conditions/pneumonia/
www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/general-medical-conditions/pneumonia
https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/eating-well/eating-a-healthy-diet