You’re coughing, have a fever, and can’t seem to catch your breath. You suspect you have pneumonia—an infection of the air sacs in the lungs that’s caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. But you’re just not sure.
If your symptoms are severe and you have chest pain, breathing difficulties that are getting worse, or you’re coughing up blood, you should go to the closest emergency room. Mild symptoms, however, can be treated at home with the guidance of a healthcare provider.
Get to Know Pneumonia
When the winter crud is going around, it can be hard to distinguish one common respiratory illness from another. Pneumonia symptoms often overlap those of a cold and may include:
- Body aches
- Chest pain, especially when you cough
- Coughing, often with mucus
- Fever, including sweating or chills
- Nausea or vomiting (usually in children)
- Shallow breathing
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of pneumonia you have. Bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or suddenly and can cause fevers as high as 105 degrees. Viral pneumonia may have symptoms that more closely resemble the flu. Walking pneumonia may feel like a bad cold with symptoms like chest pain, a cough, headache, and chills, or symptoms can be so mild that you can continue with normal activities.
Why You Need Treatment
While mild cases of pneumonia may go away on their own, more serious cases can turn life-threatening very quickly for people in high-risk groups, such as those: under age 2 and over age 65; those with a weakened immune system; or those with medical conditions such as cirrhosis, diabetes, or heart disease.
If you think your child has pneumonia, you should call their pediatrician or go to urgent care right away.
Treatment may include medications such as antibiotics or antivirals, drinking plenty of fluids, and rest. Most people will experience fatigue for a few weeks, even after other symptoms have disappeared. It’s important to take your recovery seriously and continue to rest so the infection does not come back.
Pneumonia Is Preventable
Some cases of pneumonia can’t be preempted, but many can. Your whole family can take steps to lower your risk of pneumonia.
- Get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. This vaccine protects against one of the most common strains of pneumonia. People 65 and older and kids younger than age 5 should get this vaccine. Other adults and older kids who are at high risk for pneumonia due to medical conditions may also need the vaccine.
- Get vaccinated against respiratory illnesses. Flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 can all cause pneumonia. Getting these vaccines or boosters if you haven’t had them yet is important.
- Practice good hygiene. Handwashing can prevent many illnesses.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco use increases both your risk for pneumonia and complications.
- Stick with a healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep every night, and exercise regularly to boost your immune system.
If you or a loved one has symptoms of pneumonia, don’t wait for treatment—find an urgent care location near you.