Pneumonia Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- If you have symptoms of pneumonia, like fever and cough, see a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis and treatment.
- It’s important to see a provider if you’re at high risk for pneumonia (adults over 65, those with an underlying health condition or weakened immune system).
- Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. Viral pneumonia can usually be treated at home with OTC medication and at-home care, but antiviral medication may be prescribed in some cases.
Go to the ER or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Racing heart
- Cyanosis (blue discoloration anywhere on your skin, lips, or nails)
- Chest pain
- Constant fever of 102˚F or above
- Coughing up blood
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When to see a healthcare provider
You should always see a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of pneumonia, which include fever, cough (with or without mucus), trouble breathing, and chest pain. It’s especially important to see a provider if you’re at high risk for pneumonia (adults over age 65, those who have an underlying health condition or weakened immune system).
Pneumonia is usually diagnosed by your symptoms and your provider may order some of these tests:
- A chest X-ray to check for inflammation in the lungs
- Blood tests to look for signs your body is fighting an infection
- Pulse oximetry to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood
- A sputum test. A sample of lung fluid is taken to identify the cause of the infection.
- If you’re over 65, in the hospital, or have other major health conditions, your provider may order additional tests like a CT scan to get a more detailed look at your lungs.
What to expect from your doctor visit
- If you have bacterial pneumonia, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics. Bacterial infections usually get better after a few days of being on antibiotics. Always finish the full course of antibiotics, even if you feel better, to prevent symptoms from coming back.
- Sometimes antiviral medicine is prescribed for viral pneumonia, though only for certain types.
- You may be admitted to the hospital if you have trouble breathing or low oxygen levels, are dehydrated, can’t tolerate oral medications or fluids, or have other concerning symptoms or health conditions that need careful monitoring.
- Antibiotics: amoxicillin, azithromycin (Zithromax), doxycycline (Vibramycin), levofloxacin (Levaquin), amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin)
- Antivirals: zanamivir (Relenza), oseltamivir (Tamiflu), rimantadine (Flumadine), amantadine (Symmetrel), baloxavir (Xofluza), ribavirin (Copegus), acyclovir (Zovirax)
Types of providers who treat pneumonia
- A primary care provider can diagnose and treat pneumonia.
- A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in lung disease and can treat complicated cases of pneumonia.
Treating pneumonia at home
Always see a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis. Common symptoms of pneumonia include fever, cough (with or without mucus), trouble breathing, and chest pain.
If you have viral pneumonia, OTC medication and at-home care may be all you need to treat symptoms. Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, but OTC medication and home care can help you feel more comfortable while you recover.
- Expectorants can help thin and loosen mucus: guaifenesin (Mucinex, DayQuil Cough, Robitussin Mucus + Chest Congestion)
- Cough suppressants: dextromethorphan (Delsym)
- Combination expectorant/cough suppressants: Mucinex DM, Robitussin Cough + Chest Congestion DM, Delsym Cough Plus Chest Congestion DM
- Pain relievers/fever reducers: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Tips for treating pneumonia
- Drink plenty of water, which thins mucus.
- Have hot liquids like soup and tea to help relieve chills and get extra hydration.
- Gargle with warm water and salt, which can remove mucus from your throat and soothe irritation.
- Rest as much as you can. Trying to do too much makes it harder for the body to fight the infection.
- Use a humidifier to keep your airways moist and help breathing.
- Don’t smoke and try to avoid being exposed to smoke.
Wellness and prevention
- Ask your doctor about getting the pneumonia vaccine, which lowers your risk of catching the disease. And if you happen to catch it anyway, your symptoms are more likely to be milder when you’re vaccinated. The vaccine is recommended for adults over age 65, those who have a weakened immune system, smokers, and others at high risk of complications from pneumonia.
- Get the flu vaccine. Having the flu increases your risk of getting pneumonia.
- Wash your hands regularly to reduce your risk for infection.
- Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Exercise regularly, which helps your immune system stay healthy.
- If someone you live with has pneumonia, you should both wear a mask.