Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection. Most people get better in 2 to 4 weeks, but babies, older people, and people with heart or lung conditions are at risk of getting seriously ill and may need treatment in hospital.
Check if you have pneumonia
Symptoms of pneumonia can start suddenly or gradually over a few days.
- a cough – you may cough up yellow or green mucus (phlegm)
- shortness of breath
- a high temperature
- chest pain
- an aching body
- feeling very tired
- loss of appetite
- making wheezing noises when you breathe – babies may also make grunting noises
- feeling confused – this is common in older people
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
- you've had a cough for 3 weeks or more
- you're coughing up blood
- you have chest pain that comes and goes, or happens when breathing or coughing
- you're feeling short of breath
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
- you're struggling to breathe – you're choking, gasping and unable to speak
- you have pale, blue or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
- you suddenly feel confused – for example, you do not know where you are
- you cannot wake your baby and they feel floppy
Treatment for pneumonia
You'll usually be given antibiotics to treat pneumonia. Most people get better in 2 to 4 weeks.
Some people are more at risk of becoming seriously ill. You may need to go to hospital for treatment if:
- you're over 65
- you have cardiovascular disease or a long-term lung condition
- your baby or young child has pneumonia
- you're very unwell
In hospital you'll usually be given fluids and antibiotics to treat the infection. You may also be given oxygen to help you breathe.
You may be sent for an X-ray of your chest and blood tests to check for other conditions.
If you're given antibiotics to take at home, contact your doctor if you do not feel better after taking them for 2 to 3 days.
Things you can do if you have pneumonia
There are some things you can do to help with recovery from pneumonia and reduce the risk of spreading it to other people.
rest until you feel better – try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to do normal activities
drink plenty of fluids
take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with pain or a high temperature
cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
put used tissues in the bin as quickly as possible
wash your hands regularly with water and soap
do not take cough medicine – coughing helps your body get rid of the infection
do not smoke
Causes of pneumonia
Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
You can catch it from someone who has it, or you can sometimes get it if you have another infection such as flu or coronavirus (COVID-19).
It can be caused by a fungal infection but this is rare in healthy people in the UK.
It may also be caused by something getting into your lungs, such as water or food (aspiration pneumonia).
If you're at risk of getting seriously ill with pneumonia, it's recommended you get the pneumococcal vaccine, also known as the pneumonia vaccine. It protects against an infection that can cause pneumonia.
People at high risk include:
- adults aged over 65
- people with heart, lung, liver, kidney or neurological conditions with a risk of aspiration
- people with diabetes
- people with a weakened immune system, for example, you have a condition that stops your immune system working properly, or you are having treatment to suppress your immune system
Adults and children more at risk should also get a flu vaccine every year.
You can ask a GP or pharmacist about both vaccines.
Stopping smoking also reduces your chance of getting pneumonia.
Page last reviewed: 12 January 2023
Next review due: 12 January 2026