Treating pneumonia 

Mild cases of pneumonia can usually be treated at home with antibiotics and plenty of rest and fluids. More severe cases may need hospital treatment.

Treatment at home

You may continue to cough for two to three weeks after finishing your course of antibiotics, and feel tired for even longer, as your body continues to recover.

Tell your GP if your symptoms don't get better within two days of starting treatment. Your symptoms may not have improved because:

  • the bacteria causing the infection may be resistant to antibiotics your doctor may change to a different antibiotic, or may start treating you with a second antibiotic while you continue to take the first one
  • a virus may be causing the infection, rather than bacteria  antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and your body's immune system will have to fight the viral infection by creating antibodies

Treatment in hospital

You may need hospital treatment if your symptoms are severe. This includes antibiotics and fluids given intravenously through a drip, or oxygen to help breathing.

In very serious cases of pneumonia, breathing may need to be assisted through a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU).

Read more about the complications of pneumonia.

Self-help

The steps below may help ease your symptoms.

You can take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce fever. However, you should not take ibuprofen if you:

Cough medicines are not recommended. Coughing lets you clear mucus from your lungs, so trying to stop your cough could make the infection last longer.

Also, there is little evidence that cough medicines are effective. A warm drink of honey and lemon can help relieve the discomfort caused by coughing.

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, and get plenty of rest to help your body recover.

If you smoke, it's more important than ever to stop, as smoking damages your lungs. Read information and tips on how to stop smoking.

Pneumonia is not usually passed from one person to another, so it is safe to be around others, including family members. However, it is sensible for those with weakened immune systems to avoid a person with pneumonia until they start to get better.

Once your symptoms improve, it may take a while for you to fully recover, and your coughing may continue for some time. Speak to your GP if you are concerned.

After treatment

Your GP will probably ask to see you again around six weeks after you start your antibiotics.

In some cases, they may arrange follow-up tests, such as a chest X-ray, if:

  • your symptoms have not improved
  • your symptoms have come back
  • you smoke
  • you are over the age of 50

Some people may be advised to have vaccinations against flu or pneumococcal infections after recovering from pneumonia. Read more about preventing pneumonia.

Aspiration pneumonia

If you have breathed in an object that is causing your pneumonia, it may need to be removed.

The doctor may do this by using a tube to look into the airways in your lungs, and then removing the inhaled object. This is called a bronchoscopy.

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2014

Next review due: 19/06/2016