Skip to Content

Community Acquired Pneumonia


What is community-acquired pneumonia (CAP)?

CAP is a lung infection that you get outside of a hospital or nursing home setting. Your lungs become inflamed and cannot work well. CAP may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

The Lungs

What increases my risk for CAP?

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Brain disorders such as stroke, dementia, and cerebral palsy
  • Weakened immune system
  • Recent surgery or trauma
  • Surgery for cancer of the mouth, throat, or neck
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease

What are the signs and symptoms of CAP?

  • Cough that may bring up green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Fever, chills, or severe shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing and heartbeat that are faster than usual
  • Pain in your chest or back when you breathe in or cough
  • Fatigue and loss of appetite
  • Trouble thinking clearly (especially in elderly people)

How is CAP diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs for abnormal sounds. You may also need any of the following:

  • X-ray or CT scan pictures may show a lung infection or other problems, such as fluid around your lungs. You may be given contrast liquid to help your lungs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.
  • Blood and sputum tests may be done to check for the germ causing your infection.
  • Bronchoscopy is a procedure to look inside your airway and learn the cause of your airway or lung condition. A bronchoscope (thin tube with a light) is inserted into your mouth and moved down your throat to your airway. You may be given medicine to numb your throat and help you relax during the procedure. Tissue and fluid may be collected from your airway or lungs to be tested.

How is CAP treated?

Treatment will depend on what type of germ is causing your CAP, and how bad your symptoms are. You may need antibiotics if your pneumonia is caused by bacteria. Antiviral medicines may be given if you have viral pneumonia. You may need medicines that dilate your bronchial tubes. You may need oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may need to be admitted to the hospital if your pneumonia is severe.

What can I do to manage CAP?

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Breathe warm, moist air. This helps loosen mucus. Loosely place a warm, wet washcloth over your nose and mouth. A room humidifier may also help make the air moist.
  • Take deep breaths. Deep breaths help open your airway. Take 2 deep breaths and cough 2 or 3 times every hour. Coughing helps get mucus out of your body.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids to drink. Liquids help make mucus thin and easier to get out of your body.
  • Gently tap your chest. This helps loosen mucus so it is easier to cough. Lie with your head lower than your chest several times a day and tap your chest.
  • Get plenty of rest. Rest helps your body heal.

How can I prevent CAP?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing hand gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
  • Clean surfaces often. Clean doorknobs, countertops, cell phones, and other surfaces that are touched often.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.
  • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.
  • Ask about vaccines. You may need a vaccine to help prevent pneumonia. Get an influenza (flu) vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are confused and cannot think clearly.
  • You have increased trouble breathing.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn gray or blue.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms do not get better, or get worse.
  • You are urinating less, or not at all.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.