Pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyah) is swelling and fluid in the lungs that is usually caused by an infection (in-FEK-shun). The fluid in the lungs may make it hard for you to breathe. People with pneumonia can have symptoms that range from mild to severe (very bad). Treatments may include medicines, oxygen, increasing your liquid intake, and rest.

Picture of the normal respiratory system



  • Keep a list of your medicines: Keep a written list of the medicines you take, the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list of your medicines or the pill bottles when you see your caregivers. Do not take any medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbs, or food supplements without first talking to caregivers.

  • Take your medicine as directed: Always take your medicine as directed by caregivers. Call your caregiver if you think your medicines are not helping or if you feel you are having side effects. Do not quit taking your medicines until you discuss it with your caregiver.

  • You may need medicines to help you feel better faster, or to prevent your pneumonia from getting worse. These medicines may include one or more of the following:

    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your caregiver. Keep taking this medicine until it is completely gone, even if you feel better. Stopping antibiotics without your caregiver's OK may make the medicine unable to kill all of the germs. Never "save" antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.

    • Cough medicine:

      • You may need a cough medicine to help loosen phlegm in your lungs and make it easier to cough up. This type of cough medicine is called an expectorant. Drink plenty of water if you are taking an expectorant type of cough medicine. Coughing the phlegm out of your lungs can help you breathe easier.

      • A type of cough medicine that decreases your urge to cough is called a cough suppressant. If your cough is producing mucus, do not take a cough suppressant unless your caregiver tells you to. For example, your caregiver may suggest that you take a cough suppressant at night so you can rest.

    • Inhalers and nebulizers: Your caregiver may give you one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough up mucus. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. This type of medicine may also be given using a nebulizer, or "breathing treatment machine". Using inhalers and nebulizers the right way takes practice. Ask your caregiver for more information about using inhalers and nebulizers correctly.

    • Over-the-counter medicine: Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are the kind that you can buy without an order (prescription) from a caregiver. OTC medicine may be used for many reasons, such as decreasing pain or a high body temperature (fever). These medicines are safe for most people to use and can help you feel better when used correctly. However, they can cause serious problems when they are not used correctly. People using certain other medicines or that have certain medical conditions are at a higher risk for problems. Using too much, or using these medicines for longer than the label says can also cause problems. Follow directions on the label carefully. If you have questions, talk to your caregiver.

    • Steroids: Steroid medicine may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier. Do not stop taking this medicine without your caregiver's OK. Stopping on your own can cause problems.

Ask your caregiver when to return for a follow-up visit.

Keep all appointments. Write down any questions you may have. This way you will remember to ask these questions during your next visit.

Activity and home care:

Your caregiver may suggest some of the following treatments or lifestyle changes to help you get better:

  • Avoid things that can irritate your lungs. Do not smoke, and do not allow others to smoke around you. Smoking increases your risk of lung infections and other health problems. Smoking also makes it harder for you to get better after having a lung infection. Talk to your caregiver if you need help quitting smoking. Air pollution and smoke from fireplaces or forest fires in your area may also make it harder for you to breathe. Stay inside, or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when going outside during cold weather.

  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe, and help decrease your cough. Wash the humidifier each day with soap and warm water to keep it free of germs.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition can help your body fight illness. Eat a variety of healthy foods every day. Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, breads and protein (such as meat, fish, and beans). Ask your caregiver if you should decrease your intake of dairy (milk) products while you are coughing up phlegm. Do not drink liquids that contain alcohol while you are sick.

  • Drink enough liquids and get plenty of rest. Be sure to drink enough liquids every day. Most people should drink at least eight (8 ounce) cups of water a day. This helps to keep your air passages moist and better able to get rid of germs and other irritants. You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.

  • Avoid the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use germ-killing hand lotion or gel to clean your hands when soap and water is not available. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you wash your hands first. When coughing, cover your mouth with a tissue or your shirtsleeve. Tell others to do the same. Avoid being around sick people whenever possible.

For more information:

Contact the following for more information about pneumonia:

  • American Lung Association
    61 Broadway, 6th floor
    New York City, NY 10006
    Phone: 1-800-586-4872
    Web Address:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta, GA 30333
    Phone: 1-404-6393311
    Phone: 1-800-3113435
    Web Address:


  • You have a fever (increased body temperature).

  • Your skin is itchy, or you have a rash. Your medicines may be causing these symptoms. This may mean you are allergic (uh-LER-jik) to your medicine.

  • You have any questions or concerns about your pneumonia.

  • Your breathing problems do not go away or they get worse.

  • Your cough does not get better with treatment.

  • Your begin to cough up blood.


Call 9-1-1 or 0 (operator) to get to the nearest hospital or clinic if you have any of the following signs:
  • You faint (pass out) or feel like fainting, or you have new problems with thinking clearly.

  • Your lips or fingernails turn dusky or blue.

  • You find it very hard to breathe.

  • You have swelling of your lips, tongue, or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow.

Copyright © 2009. Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Pneumonia (Aftercare Instructions)