Treatment for Pneumonia

Patients who have pneumonia should talk with a health care provider before taking any over-the-counter medication to relieve symptoms such as cough, aches, and fever.

Pneumonia that is caused by bacteria or mycoplasma is treated using antibiotics. It is important for patients to follow instructions for taking medications and to finish all medication, even if they feel better before completing treatment.

In most cases, antibiotics cause relatively mild side effects; however, sometimes they can cause a serious allergic reaction. Patients should report any skin rashes or worsening of symptoms to a health care provider immediately.

If pneumonia is caused by a virus, treatment may include rest and plenty of fluids. Antiviral medications may be prescribed to lessen the severity of some forms of viral pneumonia. These medications usually are used only when symptoms are recognized early.

It is important for a health care provider to monitor the recovery progress. Patients should keep all follow-up appointments, even if they are feeling better. In some cases, a follow-up chest x-ray is performed to make sure the infection is gone.

Some cases of pneumonia may require hospitalization. Infants, adults over 65, and patients with weakened immune systems may need extra care. Usually, hospital treatment involves intravenous (IV) antibiotics, which are administered directly into the bloodstream, and respiratory therapy to improve breathing.

Pneumonia Prognosis

In most pneumonia cases, a full recovery can be expected with proper medical attention and self-care, including plenty of rest, lots of fluids, and a healthy diet. The earlier the condition is treated, the better the prognosis. The following high-risk patients should seek medical attention immediately if pneumonia symptoms develop:

  • Adults over age 65
  • People with lung disease (e.g., COPD), HIV/AIDS, or other chronic illnesses
  • Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
  • Patients recovering from surgery

Pneumonia Prevention

There are several ways to help prevent infections that can develop into pneumonia. The easiest is to wash your hands frequently throughout the day. Practice good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth 2-3 times per day and flossing daily. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

Other suggestions to help prevent pneumonia include the following:

  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • If you smoke, take steps to quit smoking. Talk with a health care provider about resources that are available to help.
  • Wear a dust mask or appropriate ventilator in environments that contain dust, animal dander, or chemical fumes.
  • Talk with a health care provider about vaccines that can help prevent pneumonia.
  • If you have a common cold or the flu, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Protect others by washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.
  • Studies of children in developing countries show that fewer cases of pneumonia were reported after foods that contain the mineral zinc were added to the diet. Lean red meat, seafood, beans, and whole grains contain zinc. Ask a health care provider for more information.
  • Know the symptoms of pneumonia and seek medical attention as soon as possible if these symptoms develop.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 24 Sep 2007

Last Modified: 01 Oct 2015