How is pneumonia treated?

How pneumonia is treated depends on the germs that cause it.

  • Bacterial pneumonia: Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics. The specific antibiotic choice depends on such factors as your general health, other health conditions you may have, the type of medications you are currently taking (if any), your recent (if any) use of antibiotics, any evidence of antibiotic resistance in the local community and your age. Medicines to relieve pain and lower fever may also be helpful. Ask your doctor if you should take a cough suppressant. It’s important to be able to cough to clear your lungs.
  • Viral pneumonia: Antibiotics are not used to fight viruses. (In some cases antibiotics may be given to fight a bacterial infection that is also present.) There are no treatments for most viral causes of pneumonia. However, if the flu virus is thought to be the cause, antiviral drugs might be prescribed, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), zanamivir (Relenza®), or peramivir (Rapivab®), to decrease the length and severity of the illness. Over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and lower fever are usually recommended. Other medicines and therapies such as breathing treatments and exercises to loosen mucus may be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Fungal pneumonia: Antifungal medication is prescribed if a fungus is the cause of your pneumonia.

How soon after treatment for pneumonia will I begin to feel better?

How soon you will feel better depends on several factors, including:

  • Your age
  • The cause of your pneumonia
  • The severity of your pneumonia
  • If you have other “at-risk” conditions

If you are generally healthy, most symptoms of bacterial pneumonia usually begin to improve within 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. Symptoms of viral pneumonia usually begin to improve within a few days after starting treatment. A cough can last for several weeks. Most people report being tired for about a month after contracting pneumonia.

When would I need to be hospitalized for pneumonia?

If your case of pneumonia is more severe, you may need to stay in the hospital for treatment. Hospital treatments may include:

  • Oxygen
  • Fluids, antibiotics and other medicines given through an IV (directly into the vein)
  • Breathing treatments and exercises to help loosen mucus

People most likely to be hospitalized are those who are most frail and/or at increased risk, including:

  • Babies and young children
  • People over age 65
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with health conditions that affect the heart and lungs

It may take six to eight weeks to return to a normal level of functioning and well-being if you’ve been hospitalized with pneumonia.

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