Pneumonia is a breathing (respiratory) condition in which there is an infection of the lung.
This article covers community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). This type of pneumonia is found in persons who have not recently been in the hospital or another health care facility such as a nursing home or rehab facility. Pneumonia that affects persons in health care facilities, such as hospitals, is called hospital-acquired pneumonia.
Bronchopneumonia; Community-acquired pneumonia; CAP
Pneumonia is a common illness that affects millions of people each year in the United States. Germs called bacteria, viruses, and fungi may cause pneumonia. In adults, bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia.
Ways you can get pneumonia include:
Bacteria and viruses living in your nose, sinuses, or mouth may spread to your lungs.
You may breathe some of these germs directly into your lungs.
You breathe in (inhale) food, liquids, vomit, or fluids from the mouth into your lungs (aspiration pneumonia)
Pneumonia can be caused by many types of germs.
The most common type of bacterium is Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).
Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
White nail syndrome, or leukonychia
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will listen for crackles or abnormal breath sounds when listening to your chest with a stethoscope. Tapping on your chest wall (percussion) helps the health care provider listen and feel for abnormal sounds in your chest.
The health care provider will likely order a chest x-ray if pneumonia is suspected.
Your doctor must first decide whether you need to be in the hospital. If you are treated in the hospital, you will receive:
Fluids and antibiotics through your veins
Breathing treatments (possibly)
It is important that you are started on antibiotics very soon after you are admitted. If you have viral pneumonia, you will not receive antibiotics. This is because antibiotics do not kill viruses. You will receive other medicines, especially if you have the flu.
You are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if you:
Have another serious medical problem
Have severe symptoms
Are unable to care for yourself at home, or are unable to eat or drink
Are older than 65
Have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better
Many people can be treated at home. If so, your doctor may tell you to take antibiotics.
When taking antibiotics:
Do not miss any doses. Take the medicine until it is gone, even when you start to feel better.
Do not take cough medicine or cold medicine unless your doctor says it is OK. Coughing helps your body get rid of mucus from your lungs.
Breathing warm, moist (wet) air helps loosen the sticky mucus that may make you feel like you are choking. These things may help:
Place a warm, wet washcloth loosely over your nose and mouth.
Fill a humidifier with warm water and breathe in the warm mist.
Take a couple of deep breaths two or three times every hour. Deep breaths will help open up your lungs.
Tap your chest gently a few times a day while lying with your head lower than your chest. This helps bring up mucus from the lungs so that you can cough it out.
Drink plenty of liquids, as long as your health care provider says it is OK.
Drink water, juice, or weak tea
Drink at least 6 to 10 cups a day
Do not drink alcohol
Get plenty of rest when you go home. If you have trouble sleeping at night, take naps during the day.
With treatment, most patients improve within 2 weeks. Elderly or very sick patients may need longer treatment.
Those who may be more likely to have complicated pneumonia include:
Watkins RR, Lemonovich TL. Diagnosis and management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83:1299-1306.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.