Pneumonia (new-MO-nya) is an infection in the lungs. It causes the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid, making it hard for you to breathe. The first part of this page explains the symptoms of pneumonia, so that you can seek help early. The second part explains what to do if your doctor tells you that you have pneumonia.

If You’re at Risk for Pneumonia

There are several different types of pneumonia. The most common types are caused by:

  • Viruses (which cause viral pneumonia)
  • Bacteria
  • Mycoplasma (MY-ko-PLAZ-muh), a type of bacteria
  • Pneumocystis carinii (NEW-mo-SIS-tis ka-REE-nee-eye), a type of fungus

Each type of pneumonia has different symptoms.

Symptoms of viral pneumonia are described below:

  • At first, you may have flu-like symptoms, including fever, dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness.
  • Within 12 to 36 hours, you may have shortness of breath, increased cough, and some mucus.
  • In severe cases, you may have a high fever, a blue tint to your lips, and extreme shortness of breath.

Viruses cause about one-half of all cases of pneumonia. Most cases of viral pneumonia last a short time and are not very serious. The flu virus (influenza) can cause a serious case of pneumonia, especially in people who have heart or lung disease or are pregnant. Viral pneumonia can occur along with bacterial pneumonia.

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia often come on suddenly, but could also develop gradually. The symptoms may include:

  • Fever as high as 105 F
  • Sweating
  • Increase in your breathing and heart rate
  • Blue lips and nails (because of lack of oxygen in your blood)
  • Confusion
  • Cough that usually brings up greenish-brown or rust-colored mucus
  • In severe cases, chills, chattering teeth,  and chest pain, 

Bacterial pneumonia can occur in all age groups. This type occurs more often in people whose immune systems are weak because of alcoholism, lung problems, recent surgery, or other illnesses. A vaccine is available to protect against this type of pneumonia (see Page 3).

Symptoms of mycoplasmatic (MY-ko-plaz-MAT-ik) pneumonia may include:

  • Cough that brings up small amounts of white mucus
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Long periods of extreme weakness

Mycoplasmatic pneumonia has characteristics of both bacterial and viral pneumonia. It affects all age groups, but mostly occurs in older children and young adults. This type of pneumonia is fairly mild.

Pneumocystis carinii is a fungus that can cause pneumonia. It is usually associated with AIDS and other conditions affecting the immune system. If you have one of these conditions, your doctor will guide you in preventing this kind of pneumonia.

If You Have Already Been Diagnosed

Your doctor may order different tests to check your condition and decide on a treatment plan. You may need to have a chest x-ray. Your doctor may also want to check a sample of your sputum (mucus from your lungs) to help find what type of infection you have and which medicine would be helpful. You may also have blood tests.


Your doctor will give you antibiotics (AN-tee-by-AW-tiks) if you have bacterial or mycoplasmatic pneumonia. Antibiotics will not work against viral pneumonia, unless you also have a bacterial infection.

Other medicines your doctor may give you include:

  • Medicine to help relieve chest pain
  • An expectorant to help loosen mucus
  • Cough medicine to silence a dry cough (Do not take cough medicine to stop your cough if you are coughing up mucus.)
  • An inhaler medicine to help open your airways
  • Oxygen

Getting Better

Here are some things you can do to help your recovery:

  • Avoid cigarette smoke, dust, and things that can irritate your lungs.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Don’t skip meals.
  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water, tea, or juice a day. Fluids will help thin and loosen mucus.

Be sure to keep taking your medicine, even after your symptoms go away. It may take a while before you feel strong again.

Don’t Spread It

Because pneumonia is an infection, you can spread it. Be sure to cough and sneeze into a tissue and then throw it into a plastic bag. Always wash your hands thoroughly after coughing, sneezing, and handling tissues.

What to Do if Your Symptoms Get Worse

You should be feeling somewhat better within 48 to 72 hours after medicine is given. Call your doctor if any of the following symptoms get worse:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Mucus (amount or color)
  • Blue lips or fingertips

How can I make sure I don’t get it again?

Here are some basic things you can do to lower your risk for getting pneumonia:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Stay away from those who have a cold or the flu.
  • Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Stay active.

Can I get a pneumonia vaccine?

The pneumonia vaccine helps your body fight against pneumococcal (NEW-mo-KOCK-ol)bacteria, which attacks the lungs and can cause pneumonia. When certain conditions exist, the level of protection offered by this vaccine may decrease. You may need to get this vaccine again. If you received your first vaccine before the age of 65 and more than 5 years have passed, you should be revaccinated.

Your doctor may recommend a pneumonia vaccine for you if:

  • You are age 65 or older
  • You are recovering from a severe illness
  • You have a chronic illness such as lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, alcoholism, cirrhosis, leaks of cerebral spinal fluid, or if you have a disease or take a drug that lowers the body's resistance to infection

The pneumonia vaccine is not recommended for those who:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are younger than age 2
  • Acutely ill; your doctor may wait until you are better to get the vaccine.

Some people have allergic reactions to the pneumonia vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you have had an allergic reaction to any drug in the past.

For More Information

For more information about the pneumococcal vaccine, refer to the CDC pneumococcal vaccine information sheet (PDF).

Get a Flu Shot

Since viral pneumonia usually comes from the flu, a yearly flu shot may help to prevent pneumonia. Talk to your doctor to see if a flu shot can help you.


Call _____________________________ if you have any questions about this information.

Reviewed 8/11

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