Steps to Pneumonia Recovery

With treatment, recovery from pneumonia typically takes between three to six months. While you will start to feel better sooner than that, you will still need to take it easy until your body has fully recuperated.

To give you a sense of when you can expect signs that pneumonia is improving: Your chest may begin to feel better within four weeks. At six weeks, your cough and breathing may improve. Within three to six months, you may feel a bit tired and eventually symptom-free.

Pneumonia Recovery Timeline - Illustration by Tara Anand

Verywell / Tara Anand

Many factors affect the length of recovery from pneumonia, including:

  • How old you are
  • What type of pneumonia you are fighting
  • How you care for yourself during this time
  • Your overall health before pneumonia

Learn more about the path to recovery from pneumonia.

Importance of Prompt Treatment

Pneumonia can be treated from home. The best thing to do is to fill and start your prescribed medication immediately, so you don't give the infection more of a chance to progress.

Not all forms of pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, but those who can treat themselves from home with antibiotics can expect to take them for about five to seven days.

Some people may be given a shorter or longer medication regimen; it all depends on what your healthcare provider thinks is suitable for your particular case. 

Continue the Full Course of Antibiotic Treatment

Most people start to feel better about two days after starting antibiotics, but it’s key to continue taking your medication until the prescription is complete, unless your healthcare provider advises otherwise. 

Signs Pneumonia's Improving and Timeline For Recovery

While everyone’s recovery from pneumonia varies, you’ll likely be feeling better within a few days of starting treatment with antibiotics.

Here is an example of a timeline for recovery from pneumonia and the signs that indicate you're getting better:

  • Within seven days: Your temperature returns to normal.
  • One month: You’ll be producing less mucus, and your chest will feel better.
  • Six weeks: It’s becoming easier to breathe, and your cough is resolving.
  • Three months: While you may still feel tired, most of the other symptoms will be gone at this point.
  • Six months: You should be back to normal.

What to Expect by Age and Health

Here is how age can affect your recovery from pneumonia:

  • Infants under the age of 6 months are typically hospitalized for pneumonia out of an abundance of caution.
  • Children over the age of 6 months are more likely to be treated at home, provided they are typically healthy. 
  • Older adults may take longer to bounce back from pneumonia since our immune system naturally weakens the older we get, especially if you have a preexisting health condition. It’s also more common for the elderly and chronically ill to be hospitalized for pneumonia since the rate of complications and mortality increases for those over the age of 65.

Why Does Recovery Take So Long?

Almost everyone who comes down with pneumonia will ask themselves or their healthcare provider at least once, “Why does it take so long to recover from pneumonia?” After all, you felt better within a few days of starting your antibiotic or, in some cases, steroid treatment. Like everything else in medicine, there are many reasons why it takes so long to recover.

When bacteria enters your body, your body goes into defense mode to remove it. Somewhere along the line, you start your antibiotics, and in a few days, you feel better. This improvement is because the bacteria has been dealt with. However, your body is now in cleanup mode, removing all the debris—like the mucus in your lungs.

Your body starts working overtime to clear out all the “trash” left behind. Your body is using multiple mechanisms to move the mucus out of your lungs. This movement is why you experience a productive cough. 

Fatigue and Pneumonia

You may also feel fatigued for several months after battling pneumonia. This fatigue comes from your body diverting as much energy as possible to the immune system until it’s positive there’s no reason to be running overtime. 

Returning to Everyday Activities

Regardless of whether you could treat your pneumonia at home or you were hospitalized for pneumonia, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself as you recover. Here are some recovery tips:

  • Stay home: Be sure you stay home until your fever breaks and your coughing is at least minimal. Staying home and resting not only improves your recovery, it also protects anyone you come into contact with from getting sick.
  • Get plenty of rest: Take naps when you need to, and hang low while recovering.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: This will help keep your body hydrated as it works to flush out your illness.
  • Complete prescription medication: Make sure to complete the full course of any antibiotics, even if you’re feeling better.
  • Pace yourself: Ease into your typical everyday life.

Pneumonia is a serious infection capable of damaging your lungs. While many people seem to recover from pneumonia fully, it’s possible your lungs will not be able to return to the same level of activity as before.

This possibility is just one reason why it’s important to slowly ramp up your activity level as you heal, and practice any breathing techniques your healthcare provider may recommend.

Complications and Relapse

If you experience any of the following scenarios, contact your healthcare provider immediately:

  • Fever and a productive cough that is not improving or is worsening
  • New shortness of breath during normal daily activities
  • Chest pain while breathing
  • Suddenly feeling worse, like you’ve caught the flu again

A Word From Verywell

Pneumonia can come back in full force as you recover. A big part of achieving full recovery is taking it slow as you return to everyday life.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help as you recover. Recovering without any help can be difficult, overwhelming, and potentially create a longer recovery. Asking someone to help can make all the difference in your recovery, both mentally and physically.

As always, if you begin to feel worse—or think you’re not improving—take time to call your primary care healthcare provider and discuss your concerns. While treatment recommendations can feel very textbook at times, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to medicine. Sometimes, an adjustment is needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does COVID pneumonia last?

    COVID-19 pneumonia lasts longer than many other types of pneumonia. It progresses slowly, developing six to 12 days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms (compared to one to three days for flu-related pneumonia). With typical pneumonia, respiratory symptoms usually start to clear up in a month to six weeks, COVID pneumonia can take weeks longer and cause more significant damage, which extends the illness.

  • Why does pneumonia keep coming back?

    If you get pneumonia two or more times after recovering from the illnesses, you have recurrent pneumonia. This can be caused by a other lung conditions, which can include structural problems with the lungs, respiratory disease, or an underlying infection. In children, recurring pneumonia-like symptoms could be related to asthma.

  • How can I tell if pneumonia is getting better?

    As long as you're steadily improving, it’s a sign things are getting better. However, it may be slow, small steps. If you’re otherwise healthy, you should begin to feel better within a few days of starting treatment. Coughing should resolve within 6 weeks. It can take several months, though to feel completely over it. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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