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


You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


Pneumonia can be serious, even life threatening. Pneumonia is even more dangerous for people over the age of 50, and people with immune (i-MUN) system or other health problems. It may take a long time to get better after having pneumonia.


Informed consent:

You have the right to understand your health condition in words that you know. You should be told what tests, treatments, or procedures may be done to treat your condition. Your doctor should also tell you about the risks and benefits of each treatment. You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives caregivers permission to do certain tests, treatments, or procedures. If you are unable to give your consent, someone who has permission can sign this form for you. A consent form is a legal piece of paper that tells exactly what will be done to you. Before giving your consent, make sure all your questions have been answered so that you understand what may happen.

Call button:

You may use the call button when you need your caregiver. Pain, trouble breathing, or wanting to get out of bed are good reasons to call. The call button should always be close enough for you to reach it.


At first you may need to rest in bed. It may be easier for you to breathe if you rest with the head of your bed raised. You can also breathe easier if you rest your head on three or four pillows. Resting in a reclining chair may also help you breathe better. Another way to breathe easier is by saving your energy and resting more. If you have trouble breathing, call your caregiver right away. You may get out of bed when your breathing has improved.


Tests help caregivers find out what is causing your illness and how your body is handling it. Other tests are used to help caregivers plan your treatment. You may need one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken for tests. The blood can be taken from a blood vessel in your hand, arm, or the bend in your elbow. It is tested to see how your body is doing. It can give your caregivers more information about your health condition. You may need to have blood drawn more than once.

  • Blood gases: This test is also called an arterial blood gas or ABG test. Blood is taken from an artery (blood vessel) in your wrist, arm, or groin. The groin is the area where your abdomen meets your upper leg. Your blood is tested for the amount of "gases" in it, such as oxygen, acids, and carbon dioxide.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Caregivers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.

  • Heart monitor: This is also called an ECG, electrocardiogram, or telemetry. Sticky pads are placed on your chest or different parts of your body. Each pad has a wire leading to a small portable box (telemetry unit), or to a TV-type screen. This lets caregivers see a tracing of the electrical activity of your heart. The heart monitor may help caregivers see problems with the way your heart is beating. Do not remove any wires or sticky pads without asking your caregiver first.

  • Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter is a machine that tells how much oxygen is in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your ear, finger, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Caregivers use this machine to see if you need more oxygen.

  • Sputum sample: Sputum (mucus from your lungs) is collected in a special cup when you cough. It is sent to a lab for tests. The sputum may show what germ is causing your illness. It can also help your caregiver choose what medicine is best for you.

  • 12-lead ECG: This test, also called an EKG, helps caregivers look for damage or problems in different areas of the heart. Caregivers may need to prepare your skin by shaving off some hair, or cleaning it with a gritty lotion. Sticky pads are placed on your chest, arms, and legs. Each sticky pad has a wire that is hooked to a machine or TV-type screen. A short period of electrical activity in your heart muscle is recorded. Caregivers will look closely for certain problems or changes in how your heart is working. This test takes about 5 to 10 minutes. It is important that you lie as still as possible during the test. You may need this test more than once.

  • Vital signs: This includes taking your temperature, blood pressure, pulse (counting your heartbeat), and respirations (counting your breaths). To take your blood pressure, a cuff is put on your arm and tightened. The cuff is attached to a machine which gives your blood pressure reading. Caregivers may listen to your heart and lungs by using a stethoscope. Your vital signs are taken so caregivers can see how you are doing.


Your caregiver may give you the following kinds of medicines:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by germs called bacteria.

  • Fever medicine: This type of medicine is given to help lower your body temperature. Common medicines used to lower temperature include acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Lowering your body temperature may help you feel better.

  • Steroids: Steroid medicine may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier.

  • Bronchodilators: You may need bronchodilators to help open the air passages in your lungs, and help you breathe more easily.

Treatment options:

Your treatment may change if your pneumonia is not being controlled. This is often decided after you have tests. You may have some of the following treatments alone or together.

  • Breathing treatments: You may need breathing treatments to help open your airways so you can breathe easier. A machine may be used to help you breathe in medicine. A caregiver helps you with these treatments. At first you may need them more often. As you get better, you may only need the treatments when you are having trouble breathing.

  • Deep breathing and coughing: Deep breathing helps to open the air passages in your lungs. Coughing helps to bring up sputum (mucus) from your lungs. You can deep breathe and cough on your own, or with the help of an incentive spirometer.

    • 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, even during the night. Remember to follow each deep breath with a cough.

    • An incentive spirometer can help you take deeper breaths. Put the plastic piece into your mouth and take a steady, deep breath in. Hold your breath as long as you can, and then exhale (breathe out). Use your incentive spirometer 10 times every hour that you are awake, even during the night.

  • IV: An IV is a tube placed in your vein for giving medicine or liquids. This tube is capped or connected to tubing and liquid.

  • Oxygen: You may need extra oxygen to help you breathe easier. It may be given through a plastic mask over your mouth and nose. It may be given through a nasal cannula, or prongs, instead of a mask. A nasal cannula is a pair of short, thin tubes that rest just inside your nose. Tell your caregiver if your nose gets dry or if the mask or prongs bother you. Ask your caregiver before taking off your oxygen. Never smoke or let anyone else smoke in the same room while your oxygen is on. Doing so may cause a fire.

  • Postural drainage (PD): This treatment uses body position and gravity to help bring up sputum (mucus) from your lungs. Your caregiver will place you in different positions to help the sputum drain to larger air passages. Then you can cough it out more easily. During postural drainage, your caregiver may also lightly clap on your back and chest with their hands, or use a small machine that vibrates on your skin. This breaks up the sputum in your lungs, making it easier to cough up. Postural drainage may make it easier for you to breathe, decrease the chance of infection, and help you get better faster.

  • NPPV: Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation, or NPPV, may help you breathe without using a breathing tube in your throat. Instead, a machine helps your lungs fill with air by using a mask or a mouthpiece. If a mask is used, it may go over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. Extra oxygen may be given to you through the machine also. NPPV may help you avoid needing a breathing tube, or may be used if you do not want one.

  • Ventilator: A ventilator is a special machine that can breathe for you if you cannot breathe well on your own. You may have an endotracheal tube (ET tube) in your mouth or nose. A tube called a trach may go into an incision (cut) in the front of your neck. The ET tube or trach is hooked to the ventilator. The ventilator can also give oxygen to you.

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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.

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