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Viral Pneumonia


What is viral pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is a lung infection caused by a virus. Many viruses can cause viral pneumonia, such as influenza. You can get a virus by breathing it in or by touching something that has the virus on it. You can also develop viral pneumonia if a virus in your body travels to your lungs.

What are the signs and symptoms of viral pneumonia?

Unlike bacterial pneumonia, the symptoms of viral pneumonia develop slowly over several days. Your signs and symptoms may be different if you are older than 65 years. You may be confused or have aches and pains instead of the following more typical symptoms:

  • Cough, which may or may not bring up mucus
  • Fever above 100.4°F (38°C) or chills
  • Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or wheezing
  • Muscle pain and tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache

How is viral pneumonia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check your blood pressure, pulse, and blood oxygen level. He will listen to your heart and lungs. He will ask if you have received vaccinations. Tell him if you have been around anyone who is sick or if you have traveled recently. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for the virus that may be causing your pneumonia.
  • X-ray or CT scan pictures are used to check for signs of infection, such as swelling and fluid around your lungs. You may be given contrast liquid before the CT scan so your lungs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A mucus culture may be tested for other infections and also to find out which virus caused your pneumonia. Your healthcare provider may swab your throat or the inside of your nose to get a mucus sample. He may ask you to cough mucus into a cup.

How is viral pneumonia treated?

Most people with viral pneumonia are treated at home. Older adults and anyone with other health problems may need to stay in the hospital. Viral pneumonia usually goes away in 3 to 7 days with treatment. You may need any of the following:

  • Antiviral medicine is given to prevent or treat an infection caused by a virus. Antivirals work best if taken within 72 hours of infection. After 72 hours, the medicine can still help shorten the amount of time you have the virus, or reduce your symptoms.
  • Steroids may be used to reduce swelling.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may reduce your pain or fever. These medicines are available without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is safe for you, and how much to take. Follow directions carefully. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage.

What can I do to care for myself?

  • 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.
  • Get plenty of rest. Rest often while you recover. Slowly start to do more each day.
  • Use a room humidifier. You may be able to cough up more phlegm after you breathe moist air.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids can help prevent dehydration if you are vomiting. 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.
  • Do deep breathing and coughing. Deep breathing helps open the air passages in your lungs. Coughing helps bring up 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. Spit out any mucus you have coughed up. Take 10 deep breaths in a row every hour that you are awake. Remember to follow each deep breath with a cough.

What can I do to prevent viral pneumonia?

  • 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 more trouble breathing or your breathing seems faster than normal.
  • You have chest pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms are not getting better or are getting worse, even after treatment.
  • 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 caregivers 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.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. 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 Truven Health Analytics.

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.