Have severe COPD? Learn how to manage your symptoms.



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.

    • 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.

    • Inhalers: Your caregiver may give you one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. Using an inhaler the right way takes practice. The following steps may help you when using the most common type of inhaler:

      • __ 1. Shake the inhaler 10 to 15 times to make sure you get the correct amount of medicine per puff. Remove the cover from your inhaler's mouthpiece. If you are using a spacer, connect your inhaler to the flat (blunt) end of the spacer. A spacer is a plastic chamber that attaches to the mouthpiece of your inhaler. A spacer makes it easier for you to inhale (breathe in) your medicine.

      • __ 2. Breathe in deeply, then breathe out as much air from your lungs as you can. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth past your front teeth and rest it on the top of your tongue. Do not block the mouthpiece opening with your tongue.

      • __ 3. Breathe in through your mouth at a slow and steady rate. As you do this, press the inhaler to release the puff of medicine. Finish breathing in slowly and deeply as you inhale the medicine. When your lungs are full, hold your breath for 10 seconds. Then breathe out slowly through puckered lips or through your nose.

      • __ 4. If you need to take more puffs, wait at least one minute between each puff.

      • __ 5. Rinse your mouth with water after using the inhaler. Rinsing may keep you from getting a mouth infection or irritation.

      • __ 6. Follow the instructions that come with your inhaler to clean it. You should clean your inhaler at least once a week.

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 chicken, fish, and beans). Ask your caregiver if you should decrease your intake of dairy (milk) products while you are coughing up phlegm.

  • 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.

  • While you are sick, do not drink liquids that contain alcohol. Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. When you have pneumonia, you need to be able to cough and sneeze to clear your air passages. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.

  • Exercise your lungs. Deep breathing helps to open the air passages in your lungs. Coughing helps to bring up sputum (mucus) from your lungs. Take a deep breath and hold the breath as long as you can. Then push the air out of your lungs with a deep, strong cough. Put any sputum that you have coughed up into a tissue and throw it away. Take 10 deep breaths in a row every hour that you are awake. Remember to follow each deep breath with a cough.

Other wellness hints:

  • Vaccines: Ask your caregiver if you should get vaccinated against the flu or pneumonia. The best time to get a flu shot is in October or November. Flu shots are good for one year. Pneumonia shots are good for five to six years. Ask your caregiver which vaccinations are right for you.

  • Avoid spreading germs: You can decrease your chance of getting lung infections and other illnesses by doing the following:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing hand lotion or gel with you when you leave the house. You can use the lotion or gel to clean your hands when there is no water available.

    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.

    • Always cover your mouth when you cough. It is best to cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve, rather than into your hand. People around you should also cover their mouths when they cough.

    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as 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: http://www.lungusa.org
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta, GA 30333
    Phone: 1-404-6393311
    Phone: 1-800-3113435
    Web Address: http://www.cdc.gov


  • 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.

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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 (Discharge Care)