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

Unless a healthcare professional tells you otherwise, you should always finish taking a prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better.

If you stop taking an antibiotic part way through a course, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.

After starting treatment, your symptoms should steadily improve.

However, how quickly they improve will depend on how severe your pneumonia is. 

As a general guide, after:

  • one week – fever should have resolved
  • four weeks – chest pain and mucus production should have substantially reduced
  • six weeks – cough and breathlessness should have substantially reduced
  • three months – most symptoms should have resolved, but you may still feel very tired (fatigue)
  • six months – most people will feel back to normal

Treatment at home

Visit your GP if your symptoms don't improve within three days of starting antibiotics.

Symptoms may not improve if:

  • the bacteria causing the infection is resistant to antibiotics – your GP may prescribe a different antibiotic, or they may prescribe a second antibiotic for you to take with the first one
  • a virus is 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

Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, may help relieve pain and reduce fever.

However, you shouldn't take ibuprofen if you:

Cough medicines aren't recommended as there's also little evidence they are effective. A warm honey and lemon drink can help relieve discomfort caused by coughing.

Your cough may persist for two to three weeks after you finish your course of antibiotics, and you may feel tired for even longer as your body continues to recover.

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 more about stop smoking treatments and how to stop smoking.

See your GP if, after following the above self-help measures, your condition is deteriorating or isn't improving as expected.

Pneumonia isn't usually passed from one person to another, so it's safe to be around others, including family members.

However, it's best for people with a weakened immune system to avoid close contact with a person with pneumonia until they start to get better.

Follow-up

Your GP will probably arrange a follow-up appointment for you about six weeks after you start your course of antibiotics.

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

  • your symptoms haven't improved
  • your symptoms have come back
  • you smoke
  • you're over the age of 50

Some people may be advised to have a flu vaccination or pneumococcal vaccination after recovering from pneumonia.

Read more about preventing pneumonia.

Treatment in hospital

You may need treatment in hospital if your symptoms are severe. You'll be given antibiotics and fluids intravenously through a drip, and you may need oxygen to help breathing.

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

Read more about the complications of pneumonia.

Aspiration pneumonia

If you've breathed in an object that's causing pneumonia, it may need to be removed.

To do this, an instrument called a bronchoscope may be used to look into your airways and lungs so that the object can be located and removed. This procedure is known as a bronchoscopy.

Page last reviewed: 11/05/2016

Next review due: 11/05/2018