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:
- 1 week – high temperature should have gone
- 4 weeks – chest pain and mucus production should have substantially reduced
- 6 weeks – cough and breathlessness should have substantially reduced
- 3 months – most symptoms should have resolved, but you may still feel very tired (fatigue)
- 6 months – most people will feel back to normal
Treatment at home
Visit your GP if your symptoms do not improve within 3 days of starting antibiotics.
Symptoms may not improve if:
- the bacteria causing the infection is resistant to antibiotics – a 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
However, you should not take ibuprofen if you:
- are allergic to aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- have asthma, kidney disease, a history of stomach ulcers or indigestion
Cough medicines are not recommended as there is little evidence they are effective. A warm honey and lemon drink can help relieve discomfort caused by coughing.
Your cough may persist for 2 to 3 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.
See a GP if, after following these self-help measures, your condition is deteriorating or is not improving as expected.
Pneumonia is commonly caused by viruses or bacteria passed from one person to another. But healthy people are normally able to fight off these germs without pneumonia developing. So it's usually safe for someone with pneumonia to be around others, including family members.
However, people with a weakened immune system are less able to fight off infections, so it's best they avoid close contact with a person with pneumonia.
The GP will probably arrange a follow-up appointment for you about 6 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 have not improved
- your symptoms have come back
- you smoke
- you're over the age of 50
Treatment in hospital
You may need treatment in hospital if your symptoms are severe. You should be given antibiotics as soon as possible. You may also be given fluids intravenously through a drip, and you may need oxygen to help breathing.
In serious cases of pneumonia, breathing assistance through a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU) may be required.
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: 30 June 2019
Next review due: 30 June 2022