When You Have Pneumonia

You have been diagnosed with pneumonia. This is a serious lung infection. Most cases of pneumonia are caused by bacteria. But it can also be caused by:

  • Viruses

  • Fungi

  • Atypical bacteria such as mycoplasma

  • Inhaling certain chemicals

Pneumonia most often occurs in older adults, young children, and people with chronic health problems.

Home care

  • Take your medicine exactly as directed. Don’t skip doses. Take your antibiotics as directed until they are all gone, even if you start to feel better. This will prevent the pneumonia from coming back.

  • Drink plenty of water daily, unless directed otherwise. This may help to loosen and thin lung mucus so that you can cough it up.

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom. Clean the humidifier every day.

  • Don’t use medicines to suppress your cough unless your cough is dry, painful, or keeps you from sleep. Coughing up mucus is normal. It helps you recover. You may use an expectorant if your healthcare provider says it’s OK.

  • You can use warm compresses or a heating pad on the lowest setting to relieve chest discomfort. Do this several times a day for short periods of time. To prevent injury to your skin, set the temperature to warm, not hot. Don’t put the compress or pad directly on your skin. Make sure it has a cover or wrap it in a towel. This is to prevent skin burns.

  • Get plenty of rest until your fever, shortness of breath, and chest pain go away.

  • Plan to get a flu shot every year. The flu is a common cause of pneumonia. Getting a flu shot every year can help prevent both the flu and pneumonia.

Getting the pneumococcal vaccine

Talk with your healthcare provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccine. There are 2 kinds of pneumonia vaccines. You may need to get both. Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person. It can cause minor problems, such as ear infections. But it can also turn into these life-threatening illnesses:

  • Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)

  • Infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

  • Infection of the blood (bacteremia)

People at the highest risk of pneumococcal disease include: 

  • Children under age 2

  • Adults over age 65

  • People with certain health conditions

  • Smokers

This vaccine can help prevent pneumococcal disease in both adults and children. Some people should not have the vaccine. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if you should have the vaccine. 

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F ( 38°C) or higher

  • Mucus from the lungs (sputum) that’s yellow, green, bloody, or smells bad

  • A large amount of sputum

  • Vomiting

  • Symptoms that get worse

  • New symptoms

Call 911

Call 911 right away if you have any of these:

  • Chest pain

  • Trouble breathing

  • Blue, purple, or gray lips or fingernails

  • Feeling of doom

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Trouble talking

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: David A Kaufman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.