What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is the medical term used for inflammation in the lungs, which makes the tiny air sacs in your lungs called alveoli, fill up with fluid. This makes it difficult to breathe and get enough oxygen into your body.

Pneumonia is usually caused by an infection. Most infections that lead to pneumonia are bacterial but some viruses, like coronavirus (COVID-19) can also cause pneumonia in severe cases. There is an overview of pneumonia on the NHS website.

Who does Pneumonia affect?

Pneumonia can affect anyone who gets an infection in their lungs, but you are more likely to develop pneumonia if you are older, if you already have a lung condition or other long-term health condition.

Pneumonia can also affect people who are already in hospital for other problems. This occurs for a few reasons, including the use of mechanical ventilators or because often people in hospital are already quite poorly and their ability to fight off infection is weak due to a weakened immune system. 

What are the symptoms of Pneumonia?

The symptoms of pneumonia are very similar to symptoms of flu or a chest infection. Pneumonia can also feel like a COPD or bronchiectasis flare up. You may gradually start to feel more and more poorly, or it can develop very quickly over 24 to 48 hours.

If you have the common symptoms listed below you can get advice from the NHS 111 service or make an urgent appointment to see your GP, particularly if you already have another lung condition that puts you at greater risk of pneumonia. Your GP might be able to diagnose pneumonia by listening to your chest, or you might need an x-ray. If you don’t have a GP, you can search for local GP services on the Service Finder web page. 

If you, or someone you are caring for, has chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, quick breathing or confusion, get urgent advice from NHS 111 or call 999.

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

Symptoms of severe pneumonia include: 

How is Pneumonia treated?

How pneumonia is treated depends on how severe it is and if you have any other conditions. People who were generally healthy and well before they developed pneumonia should respond well to treatment and recover quickly.

Mild pneumonia can usually be treated at home by:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Antibiotic tablets (only if the pneumonia is likely to be caused by a bacterial infection)
  • Drinking plenty of fluids

If you already have a lung condition, you are more at risk from severe pneumonia, which may need to be treated in hospital, so that you can have antibiotics and fluids given to you on a drip. Hospital-acquired pneumonia requires different, very strong antibiotics. In severe cases of pneumonia, supplementary oxygen/mechanical ventilation may be needed.Find out more about treatments for pneumonia.

What can I do to protect myself from Pneumonia?

If you have a lung condition that puts you at greater risk of pneumonia, there are a few things you can do to help prevent it happening to you. 

What should I do if I feel unwell?

If you are worried that you have symptoms of pneumonia, seek medical advice using the NHS 111 service, or by making an appointment with your GP. If you or someone you are caring for has chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, fast breathing and/or confusion get urgent medical advice or phone 999.