Pneumonia 

Introduction 

Pneumococcal disease

Professor Brian Duerden, CBE, explains how pneumococcal disease can cause pneumonia and other invasive infections. He describes the effects of the disease on older people and children, and what you can do to prevent it.

Media last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

Pneumococcal vaccine

The pneumococcal vaccination, also known as the pneumo jab, protects against pneumococcal infections

Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both of your lungs. It's usually caused by an infection.

At the end of the breathing tubes in your lungs are clusters of tiny air sacs. If you have pneumonia, these tiny sacs become inflamed and swell up with fluid.

Terms such as bronchopneumonia, lobar pneumonia and double pneumonia are sometimes used, but refer to the same condition with the same causes and treatment.

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • a cough  which may produce thick mucus (phlegm) that is yellow, green, brownish or blood-stained
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing

When to see your GP

If you feel very unwell and experience any of the symptoms of pneumonia, see your GP.

You may need a chest X-ray or further tests to confirm the diagnosis.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms – such as rapid breathing, chest pain or confusion – seek urgent medical attention.

Read more about how pneumonia is diagnosed.

What causes pneumonia?

The most common cause of pneumonia is a pneumococcal infection, caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. 

However, there are many different types of bacteria and viruses that can lead to pneumonia.

Good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent pneumonia. Try to avoid smoking, as it damages your lungs and increases the chance of infection.

People at high risk of pneumonia should also be offered the pneumo jab and the flu jab.

Read more about the causes of pneumonia.

How is pneumonia treated?

Mild cases of pneumonia can usually be treated at home with antibiotics, rest and fluids. People who are otherwise healthy will normally recover well.

For people with other health conditions, pneumonia can sometimes be severe and may need to be treated in hospital.

This is because pneumonia can lead to complications, some of which can be fatal, depending on the health and age of the patient. These include:

  • respiratory failure (when the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen) due to the air sacs filling with fluid
  • lung abscesses
  • blood poisoning (septicaemia)

Read more about treating pneumonia and the complications of pneumonia.

Who is affected?

In the UK, pneumonia affects around 1 in 1000 adults each year. It is more common during autumn and winter.

Pneumonia can affect people of any age, although it is more common and can be more serious in groups such as:

  • babies, young children and elderly people
  • people who smoke
  • people with other health conditions, such as a lung condition or a weakened immune system

People in these groups are more likely to need hospital treatment.

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2014

Next review due: 19/06/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 702 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

Useful links

Symptom checker

If you have a health problem, our symptom checker can help you manage it or find out where to go for help

Follow us on Twitter

Join more than 150,000 who follow @NHSChoices for the latest and best health news and lifestyle advice

Flu and the flu vaccine

Your guide to flu symptoms and the flu vaccine, including who should be vaccinated this winter

Find and choose services for Pneumonia