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Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Connecticut Children's Medical Center

(860) 545-9000


What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Normally, the small sacs in the lungs are filled with air. In someone who has pneumonia, the air sacs fill up with pus and other fluid.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pneumonia?

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • chills
  • fast breathing 
  • breathing with grunting or wheezing sounds
  • working hard to breathe
  • vomiting
  • chest pain
  • belly pain 
  • being less active 
  • loss of appetite (in older kids) or poor feeding (in babies)

What Causes Pneumonia?

Viruses, like the flu or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), cause most cases of pneumonia. Kids with pneumonia caused by a virus usually have symptoms that happen over time and tend to be mild. 

Less often, bacteria can cause pneumonia. When that happens, kids usually will become sick more quickly, starting with a sudden high fever, cough, and sometimes fast breathing. Types of bacterial pneumonia include pneumococcal pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia (walking pneumonia), and pertussis (whooping cough).

How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?

Doctors will do an exam to look for pneumonia. They’ll check the person’s appearance, breathing pattern, and vital signs. They'll listen to the lungs and might order a chest X-ray.

How Is Pneumonia Treated?

People who have viral pneumonia do not need antibiotics. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. Someone with viral pneumonia from the flu virus might get an antiviral medicine if it’s early in the illness.

Doctors treat bacterial pneumonia with an antibiotic taken by mouth. Usually, this can be done at home. The antibiotic they use depends on the type of bacteria thought to have caused the pneumonia.

Some children might need treatment in a hospital if the pneumonia causes a lasting high fever or breathing problems, or if they need oxygen, are vomiting and can’t take the medicine, or have a lung infection that may have spread to the bloodstream.

Hospital treatment can include IV (given into a vein) antibiotics and fluids and breathing treatments. More serious cases might be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU).

How Can Parents Help?

Kids with pneumonia need to get plenty of rest and drink lots of liquids while the body works to fight the infection.

If your child has bacterial pneumonia and the doctor prescribed antibiotics, give the medicine on schedule for as long as directed. Keeping up with the medicine doses will help your child recover faster and help prevent the infection from spreading to others in the family. If your child is wheezing, the doctor might recommend using breathing treatments.

Ask the doctor before you use a medicine to treat your child's cough. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for any kids under 6 years old. If your child doesn’t seem to be feeling better in a few days, call your doctor for advice.

How Long Does Pneumonia Last?

With treatment, most types of bacterial pneumonia are cured in 1–2 weeks. Walking pneumonia and viral pneumonia may take 4–6 weeks to go away completely.

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

In general, pneumonia is not contagious, but the upper respiratory viruses and bacteria that lead to it are. When these germs are in someone’s mouth or nose, that person can spread the illness through coughs and sneezes.

Sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils, and touching used tissues or handkerchiefs of an infected person also can spread pneumonia. If someone in your home has a respiratory infection or throat infection, keep their drinking glasses and eating utensils separate from those of other family members, and wash your hands well and often, especially if you're handling used tissues or dirty handkerchiefs.

Can Pneumonia Be Prevented?

Some types of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines. Kids usually get routine vaccines against Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus, and whooping cough beginning at 2 months of age.

The flu vaccine is recommended for all kids ages 6 months through 19 years. It’s extra important for kids who have a chronic illness such as a heart or lung disorder or asthma.

When possible, keep kids away from anyone with symptoms (stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, cough) of a respiratory infection.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2020