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Symptoms of pneumonia

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Pneumonia is a serious condition that affects the lungs, causing inflammation and fluid build-up in the air sacs. This causes coughing, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

In most cases, pneumonia causes relatively mild symptoms that can be treated at home, normally with a short course of antibiotics and some over-the-counter remedies. In more severe cases, hospitalisation is required – this is more likely if you are in a high-risk group i.e. you are over 65, or live with a long-term health condition.

Viral pneumonia

Normally pneumonia is caused by bacteria, although sometimes a virus, like coronavirus can cause pneumonia. Viral pneumonia has the same symptoms of coughing, chest pain and breathlessness as bacterial pneumonia. However, it is different as it can’t be treated with antibiotics, instead your body’s immune system will need to fight the infection.

If you’re concerned about pneumonia, it can be helpful to familiarise yourself with the symptoms.

Pneumonia symptoms in adults

Pneumonia can feel very similar to other respiratory conditions such as the flu or a chest infection. The main symptom is coughing, which may bring up mucus that is green, yellow or bloody. You’ll also feel generally unwell and tired.

Additionally, many people experience the following:

  • Fever, accompanied by shivering and sweating
  • Difficulty breathing and breathlessness even when resting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain, worsened by breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite

Mild symptoms of pneumonia

Very mild cases of pneumonia are sometimes known as “walking pneumonia” because they don’t tend to require extended bed rest, medical treatment or hospitalisation. The usual cause of walking pneumonia is the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Symptoms of walking pneumonia include a cough, sore throat, headache, mild flu-like symptoms, tiredness and chest pain.

Severe symptoms of pneumonia

In more serious cases of pneumonia, you may start to cough up blood, or feel very confused or drowsy. The NHS advises that you call 999 or attend A&E immediately if either of these symptoms develop. Other symptoms requiring emergency care include:

  • Struggling to breathe
  • Feeling very cold and sweaty, and having blotchy, pale skin
  • A blue tinge to your lips or face
  • A rash that doesn’t fade under a glass
  • Suddenly collapsing
  • Stopping normal urination

Sometimes severe pneumonia causes complications such as pleurisy. This where the pleura, the thin lining between the lung and ribs, becomes inflamed. This causes a sharp pain in the chest when breathing in and out.

Book your pneumonia jab

Pneumonia symptoms in children

The main symptoms of pneumonia in children are a fever (a temperature over 38.5°C) and rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing. Their breathing may be laboured, causing the muscles under their ribcage to pull inwards.

Your child might also have:

  • A cough
  • Vomiting
  • Pain in the chest and abdomen
  • Loss of appetite (in older children)
  • Difficulty feeding (in babies)
  • Less energy

If the pneumonia has affected the lower part of the lungs, your child may not have coughing, but rather fever, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Blue or grey lips or nails are a sign that your child is not getting enough oxygen, and that they need medical attention.

What are the common stages of pneumonia?

The four stages of pneumonia symptoms include congestion, which happens in the first 24 hours, this then leads to red hepatisation. This stage lasts for two to three days after the congestion stage. The third stage of pneumonia symptoms is known as Gray hepatisation which can last up to 8 days. After the eighth day the resolution stage begins. To find out what is happening in each stage read our pneumonia guide.

Watch the video below to discover the timelines of pneumonia symptoms:


Can you have pneumonia without fever?

A high temperature is a very common symptom of pneumonia; however, it is possible to have the illness without a fever. This is more likely to be the case in babies and very young children, and in the elderly.

In people who are older or who have a weakened immune system, pneumonia may cause the body temperature to lower.

What does pneumonia feel like in your chest?

Pneumonia won’t feel the same for everyone, but one of the key symptoms is chest pain. You might feel a sharp or stabbing pain that is made worse when you cough or breathe in or out. It’s also common to have difficulty breathing or have to breathe rapidly – you might feel out of breath even when you’re sitting still.

When should you suspect pneumonia?

It’s not always easy to identify pneumonia on your own without visiting a doctor. This is because the symptoms overlap with other common respiratory conditions.

To diagnose pneumonia a doctor will usually ask you the following:

  • Do you feel breathless or are you breathing rapidly?
  • Are you coughing up mucus and it is green, yellow or bloody?
  • Is your chest pain worse when you breathe in or out?

Answering yes to all of these questions indicates that you have pneumonia and that you will need to visit a doctor. They will probably listen to your chest with a stethoscope, and – depending upon the severity of your condition – may want to send you for a chest X-ray.

If your pneumonia has been caused by an existing infection such as the flu or COVID-19, you may notice a worsening of your symptoms, or that you start to feel ill again after initially recovering.

Preventing pneumonia

Pneumonia can be prevented and one of the easiest ways to protect yourself is with the pneumonia vaccine. The vaccine is available free on the NHS if you’re over 65 or have asthma, diabetes or a chronic respiratory, heart or liver condition. It’s also available if you smoke. If you don’t fall into the high-risk groups above, don’t worry we have a private pneumonia vaccination available in our stores.

You can also help protect yourself and others from pneumonia by regularly washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throwing the tissue away immediately after.

Giving up smoking can also help to reduce your risk of infection. We offer stop smoking services and products in our stores that can give you the help you need to quit for good.