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Top Treatments for Viral Pneumonia

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 22, 2024

Viral pneumonia is a serious respiratory infection that causes lung inflammation. It is caused by a virus, not a bacteria. Getting the right treatments can help ease your symptoms and may speed your recovery. In this article, we will explore the best treatments for viral pneumonia, including antiviral medications, oxygen therapy, and supportive care.

We will also discuss the symptoms, diagnosis, and different types of viral pneumonia, along with important prevention measures.

Key Takeaways:

  • In viral pneumonia, over-the-counter (OTC) medications like cough suppressants and expectorants, pain relievers, and fever reducers can help relieve some symptoms, but do not cure the illness.
  • Antiviral medications may be helpful, as they target the specific virus causing the infection and can help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms.
  • Oxygen therapy may be necessary for people with severe viral pneumonia, as it helps ensure the body receives enough oxygen to function properly.
  • Rest, getting adequate fluids, and managing your symptoms can help relieve symptoms and aid in your recovery.

What Are The Best Treatments For Viral Pneumonia?

Treating viral pneumonia may take a combination of antiviral therapy, supportive care, and tailored treatment approaches based on your specific symptoms and the causes of your pneumonia.

Rest and Symptom Management

Rest plays a crucial role in recovery, allowing the body to dedicate its energy towards healing and fighting off the viral infection.

Symptom management can help relieve uncomfortable symptoms, such as fever, cough, and breathlessness, providing relief and improving your quality of life during the illness. Although OTC medications may relieve the symptoms, it is important that you see a healthcare provider if you have pneumonia, so they can monitor your lungs and decide if a prescription medication is needed.

  • Treating a cough: One of the key symptoms of viral pneumonia is a dry, hacking cough. If it lingers, OTC cough suppressants like dextromethorphan (Robitussin DM, Delsym) can help. If the cough is productive, meaning you produce mucus, an expectorant like guaifenesin (Mucinex and Robitussin Chest Congestion) can help make it easier to get the mucus out.
  • Lowering a fever: An OTC pain reliever and fever reducer can help if you have fever, chills, and body aches. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is usually recommended because it not only brings down the high temperature but also relieves body aches. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can also help lower a fever and relieve pain and inflammation. These medications not only help in improving comfort levels but also aid in better rest, which is important for recovery.
  • Easing a sore throat: Along with pain relievers, you can soothe a sore throat with throat lozenges.

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications may help treat your viral pneumonia, with specific medications such as ribavirin, oseltamivir, and zanamivir demonstrating effectiveness against various viruses.

These antiviral agents are effective against pneumonia caused by influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), significantly reducing the duration and severity of symptoms, especially when administered early in the course of the illness.

Oxygen Therapy

If your viral pneumonia becomes serious and affects your ability to breathe normally (called respiratory failure), you may need oxygen therapy. This treatment provides adequate oxygenation and respiratory support.

Respiratory failure in viral pneumonia can lead to a severe deficiency in the body's ability to maintain adequate oxygen levels, which can risk harming vital organs.

Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen to compensate for the impaired respiratory function. By supporting patient oxygenation, oxygen therapy helps to relieve the strain on the lungs and ensures that the body receives the necessary oxygen for cellular function and metabolism. This, in turn, promotes a more effective immune response and enhances recovery from viral pneumonia.

Fluids and Nutritional Support

Getting enough fluids and food will also help you recover faster from viral pneumonia. Fluids are essential for maintaining hydration, clearing mucus from your body, and supporting lung function. Along with this, proper nutrition is important for meeting your energy needs and preventing malnutrition. Additionally, nutrition plays a vital role in regulating the immune system and its ability to fight off the viral infection.

Hospitalization and Supportive Care

For severe infections or high-risk patients, hospitalization and supportive care may be needed to address the complications of viral pneumonia and provide more supportive care and monitoring.

When a patient with viral pneumonia experiences severe symptoms such as respiratory distress, oxygen therapy with close monitoring is essential to ensure proper oxygenation and ventilation.

The management of complications such as sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and secondary infections requires specialized care often available only in a hospital setting.

Critical care interventions like mechanical ventilation, hemodynamic support, and targeted antibiotic therapy may be necessary in extremely severe cases.

What Is Viral Pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is a respiratory infection caused by the inflammation of lung tissue due to viral pathogens. It often requires supportive care to relieve symptoms and sometimes prescription medications to help reduce symptoms and speed your recovery.

What Are The Symptoms Of Viral Pneumonia?

The symptoms of viral pneumonia include cough, fever, and breathing difficulties. You may also have muscle pain, headache and weakness.

How Is Viral Pneumonia Diagnosed?

Viral pneumonia is diagnosed by a healthcare provider, who will do a physical exam, including listening to your lung function. It may include laboratory testing, and imaging studies to identify the specific viral pathogens and assess the extent of lung involvement.

What Are The Different Types Of Viral Pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia can be caused by a range of viruses including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, and human metapneumovirus (HMPV), each presenting unique characteristics and clinical implications for patients.

Influenza-Associated Pneumonia

Influenza-associated pneumonia, often stemming from severe influenza infections, may require targeted antiviral therapy and supportive care.

Influenza-associated pneumonia has a higher risk of rapid deterioration in respiratory function, accompanied by systemic symptoms. Taking prescription antiviral medications may help reduce the severity and duration of the illness.

Supportive care, including oxygen therapy and fluid management, can also help manage your symptoms

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Pneumonia

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) primarily affects the lungs and respiratory passages, causing inflammation and congestion. This can lead to breathing difficulties, especially in infants, young children, and older adults.

Supportive treatment for RSV pneumonia often involves oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, and sometimes mechanical ventilation to aid breathing. It’s important to manage potential complications such as secondary bacterial infections. Close monitoring of respiratory function and overall health status is essential in the management of RSV pneumonia to ensure timely intervention and effective care.

Adenovirus Pneumonia

Adenovirus pneumonia can lead to serious complications, particularly in high-risk patients. This respiratory condition can lead to significant respiratory distress and multi-organ involvement.

It may require interventions such as immune globulin therapy and targeted supportive measures to address the complications and systemic impact of the infection.

Immune globulin therapy plays a pivotal role in bolstering the immune response and minimizing the severity of the infection.

Personalized supportive interventions, including oxygen therapy and careful monitoring, are also helpful in relieving symptoms and reducing complications.

Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV) Pneumonia

Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) can affect your body beyond the respiratory system, as the virus can lead to significant complications, particularly in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, young children, and people with underlying health conditions.

Patients with HMPV often have a fever, cough, and shortness of breath, indicating the severity of the infection. HMPV also has a high risk of causing secondary bacterial infections and respiratory distress.

How Can Viral Pneumonia Be Prevented?

You can prevent viral pneumonia by getting all of the recommended vaccinations, as well as maintaining good hygiene, and trying to reduce exposure to people who are sick.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations play a critical role in preventing viral pneumonia, particularly for viruses such as influenza.

The flu vaccine has been proven to limit the severity of the flu and its potential complications, safeguarding vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young children.

Good Hygiene

Adhering to good hygiene can reduce the risk of catching a respiratory infection like the flu, RSV, and COVID. That in turn, reduces your risk of viral pneumonia.

Regular handwashing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer helps reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria. Covering the mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing can prevent respiratory droplets from spreading.

Surface disinfection, especially in high-contact areas, is helpful in controlling the transmission of respiratory pathogens.

Avoiding close contact with people who have respiratory infections, and wearing a mask, can significantly reduce the risks of viral pneumonia.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best treatments for viral pneumonia?

The best treatments for viral pneumonia may vary depending on the severity of the infection and the individual's overall health. However, some common treatments include antiviral medications, over-the-counter pain relievers, plenty of rest, and staying hydrated.

Can antibiotics be used to treat viral pneumonia?

No, antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and cannot treat viral pneumonia. In fact, overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and should only be used when prescribed by a doctor for a bacterial infection.

Are there any home remedies that can help with viral pneumonia?

Certain practices such as drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier, and getting enough rest can help alleviate symptoms and support the body's natural healing process.

Is hospitalization necessary for viral pneumonia?

In most cases, viral pneumonia can be treated at home with rest and proper care. However, hospitalization may be necessary for individuals with weakened immune systems, severe symptoms, or underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of complications.

Do vaccines help prevent viral pneumonia?

There is currently no vaccine specifically for viral pneumonia, but getting vaccinated against certain viruses such as influenza and measles can help prevent respiratory infections and lower the risk of developing viral pneumonia.

What should I do if I suspect I have viral pneumonia?

If you suspect you have viral pneumonia, it is important to seek medical attention right away. A doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the best treatments for your specific case. Do not try to self-diagnose or self-treat viral pneumonia.