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Treating Pneumonia 

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs. Pneumonia:

  • Is often caused by either a virus, fungus, or bacteria

  • Can be very serious, especially in babies, young children, and older adults. It’s also serious for those with other long-term health problems or weakened immune systems.

  • Is sometimes treated at home and sometimes in the hospital

Health care provider listening to the lungs of a woman in hospital bed.

Antibiotic medicines

Antibiotics may be prescribed for pneumonia caused by bacteria. They may be pills (oral medicines) or shots (injections). Or they may be given by IV (intravenously) into a vein. If you are taking pills at home:

  • Fill your prescription and start taking your medicine as soon as you can.

  • You will likely start to feel better in a day or 2, but don’t stop taking the antibiotic.

  • Use a pill organizer to help you remember to take your medicine.

  • Let your healthcare provider know if you have side effects.

  • Take your medicine exactly as directed on the label. Talk with your provider or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Antiviral medicines

Antiviral medicine may be prescribed for pneumonia caused by a virus. For example, antiviral medicine may be prescribed for pneumonia caused by the flu virus. Antibiotics don't work against viruses. If you are taking antiviral medicine at home:

  • Fill your prescription and start taking your medicine as soon as you can.

  • Talk with your provider or pharmacist about possible side effects.

  • Take the medicine exactly as instructed.

To relieve symptoms

There are many medicines that can help relieve symptoms of pneumonia. Some are prescription and some are over the counter.

Your healthcare provider may advise:

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower your fever and to reduce headache or other pain

  • Cough medicine to loosen mucus or to reduce coughing

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medicines. Some over-the-counter medicines should not be used if you have certain health conditions.

Special treatments

If you are hospitalized for pneumonia, you may have other therapies, including:

  • Inhaled medicines to help with breathing or chest congestion

  • Supplemental oxygen to increase low oxygen levels

Drink fluids and eat healthy

You should eat healthy to help your body fight the infection. Drinking a lot of fluids helps to replace fluids lost from fever and to loosen mucus in your chest.

  • Diet. Make healthy food choices, including fruits and vegetables, lean meats and other proteins, 100% whole grain, and low-fat or no-fat dairy products.

  • Fluids. Drink at least 6 to 8 tall glasses a day. Water and 100% fruit or vegetable juice are best.

Get plenty of rest and sleep

You may be more tired than normal for a while. It's important to get enough sleep at night. It’s also important to rest during the day. Talk with your healthcare provider if coughing or other symptoms are interfering with your sleep.

Preventing the spread of germs

The best thing you can do to prevent spreading germs is to wash your hands often. You should:

  • Scrub your hands with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Clean in between your fingers, the backs of your hands, and around your nails.

  • Dry your hands on a separate towel or use paper towels.

You should also:

  • Keep alcohol-based hand cleaners nearby.

  • Make sure you also clean surfaces that you touch. Use a product that kills all types of germs.

  • Stay away from others until you are feeling better.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of these:

  • Symptoms get worse or new symptoms develop

  • Fever continues

  • Shortness of breath with normal daily activities

  • Side effects from your medicine

  • Increased mucus or mucus that is darker in color

  • Coughing gets worse

  • Chest pain when coughing or breathing

Call 911

Call 911if any of these occur:

  • Lips or fingers are bluish, purple, or gray in color

  • Trouble breathing or wheezing

  • Shortness of breath that gets worse and doesn't improve with treatment

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Trouble talking or swallowing

  • Feeling of doom

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2019
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