How Pneumonia Is Treated

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type that you have, as well as how severe it is. Most times, pneumonia can be managed with home remedies, but other treatments may be necessary, including over-the-counter medications, antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and breathing treatments. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary. 

If you're being treated for pneumonia but feel like your symptoms aren't improving, or they start to get better but then get worse, see your doctor again. These could be signs that your condition is not responding to treatment or that you have developed another infection.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Most cases of pneumonia can be treated at home with the following measures:

  • Get as much rest as possible. If you have pneumonia, you need rest so that your body can fight the infection and heal. Don't try to do everything you normally do and rest when you feel tired. The more you're able to rest, the quicker you will get better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. You hear this often no matter what illness you have, but it's really important. Drinking more water will help thin the mucus in your body, making it easier to expel when you cough, an important part of recovering from pneumonia. Drink broth, soup, tea, or even hot water to help ward off chills and get some extra hydration.
  • Drink a cup of caffeinated coffee or tea. Caffeine is known to be a mild bronchodilator and it's chemically similar to theophylline, a drug that's used to treat asthma. Studies have shown that caffeine can improve breathing by opening up the airways for up to four hours.
  • Take medications as directed. Your doctor may put you on an antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal depending on what type of pneumonia you have. Make sure you take it as instructed and finish the entire prescription, even if you feel better.
  • Run a humidifier. Similar to drinking water, running a humidifier will keep your airways moist, especially when the air is dry in your house.
  • Gargle salt water. Gargling several times a day can help wash away some of the mucus in your throat and relieve a sore throat. If you hate salt water, gargling plain water works too.
  • Talk to your doctor about cough medicines. Because you need to cough to help get rid of the infection, talk to your doctor before taking any kind of cough suppressant, even if your cough is making it difficult to sleep. You may be able to take a low dose of a cough medicine or your doctor might have other options.
  • Stop smoking and stay away from smoke. Smoke aggravates your symptoms and may prolong your recovery time.

Prescriptions

There are a variety of prescriptions your doctor may give you, again, depending on the type of pneumonia you have and your symptoms.

Antibiotics

If you have bacterial or aspiration pneumonia, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Finding the best antibiotic depends on being able to figure out which type of bacteria you've been infected with, so there might be some trial and error before your symptoms begin to improve.

If your pneumonia is mild and you're healthy overall, your doctor will probably prescribe Zithromax (azithromycin), Biaxin (clarithromycin), or Erythrocin (erythromycin). You may need stronger antibiotics if you have certain medical conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, or kidney disease.

Breathing Treatments

Your doctor may also prescribe an inhaler or a nebulizer treatment to help loosen the mucus in your lungs and help you breathe better. The most common medication for this is Ventolin, ProAir, or Proventil (albuterol).

Antivirals

If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral, especially if your pneumonia was caused by influenza or herpes and it's caught early. Antivirals that might be prescribed include Tamiflu (oseltamivir), Relenza (zanamivir), Rapivab (peramivir), Zovirax (acyclovir), Cytovene (ganciclovir), Foscavir (foscarnet), Vistide (cidofovir), Nizoral (ketoconazole), and Virazol (ribavirin).

Antifungals

If you have fungal pneumonia and your immune system is suppressed or you have other serious underlying conditions, your doctor may give you an antifungal treatment. These medications include Amphotericin B, Diflucan (fluconazole), Onmel or Sporanox (itraconazole), Vfend (voriconazole), Noxafil (posaconazole), or Cresemba (isavuconazole).

Over-the-Counter Therapies

Over-the-counter remedies that are typically used to help treat the symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Fever reducers/pain relievers: Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), or aspirin will help bring your fever down and decrease any pain you might have. Remember to never give aspirin to children because it increases their risk of developing Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening illness.
  • Expectorants: These medications help loosen and move mucus out of your lungs. Your doctor probably won't want you to take cough suppressants, or at the very least, will only want you to take a low dose because you need to be able to cough to move the infection out.

Hospitalization

If your symptoms are severe or you have underlying conditions that make complications from pneumonia more likely, you may need to be hospitalized. You may receive intravenous (IV) medications and/or breathing treatments to improve your ability to breathe easily, reduce coughing and irritation, and improve oxygenation. With any type of pneumonia, you may also need supplemental oxygen, or, rarely, even a ventilator to help you breathe.

Hospitalization is more likely if you any of the following situations or factors apply to you:

  • You're over age 65
  • You're confused or disoriented
  • You have another serious medical problem like diabetes, COPD, or heart disease
  • Your kidney function has gotten worse
  • You can't take care of yourself at home
  • The antibiotic you're on isn't helping
  • You're breathing fast
  • Your temperature is lower than normal
  • Your heart rate is slow or fast

In children, hospitalization is more likely if the following factors are true:

  • The child is under 2 months old
  • He or she has trouble breathing
  • The child is lethargic or sleepier than normal
  • Blood oxygen levels are low
  • Symptoms of dehydration are present

Complementary Medicine (CAM)

Because pneumonia can be a life-threatening illness, you should never replace regular treatments with alternative therapy. However, complementary alternative medicine (CAM) can complement conventional treatments when they're used together.

Warm herbal teas can help soothe a sore throat and warm you up if you've got the chills. Peppermint and eucalyptus are particularly beneficial because they seem to break up mucus and reduce throat inflammation. 

Fenugreek has been shown to clear congestion and cleanse your throat. Drinking tea made from fenugreek seeds can help break up mucus and decrease a persistent cough.

Be sure to talk to your doctor if you decide to use CAM.

Type-Specific

Different types of pneumonia require their own specific treatments.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is typically treated with antibiotics, breathing treatments, over-the-counter medications, and comfort measures. If your case becomes severe, though, you may need to be hospitalized to receive an antibiotic intravenously.

Your symptoms should begin to improve one to three days after being on the antibiotic, but it will take at least a week or longer before you feel completely better, depending on how healthy you were to begin with.

Viral Pneumonia

If you're diagnosed with viral pneumonia, antibiotics won't help. Most importantly, you need to rest and take care of yourself. If you try to keep up with your usual routine, it will most likely take you longer to recover, so do your best to slow down and get extra rest.

Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to help manage your symptoms and bring you some relief from the discomfort they are causing, but these measures won't cure the illness. Occasionally, an antiviral medication may be prescribed. Most of the time, viral pneumonia goes away on its own in one to three weeks.

Mycoplasma Pneumonia

Mycoplasma pneumonia usually isn't as severe as bacterial or viral pneumonia, so the course of treatment may be slightly different. It's often referred to as "walking pneumonia," meaning that you don't feel so sick that you have to stay in bed all day.

Technically, mycoplasma pneumonia is caused by a bacteria and in some cases is treated with antibiotics, though it often goes away on its own without treatment as well. Although you may not need to stay in bed when you have mycoplasma pneumonia, getting extra rest, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter medications to relieve the symptoms you do experience should help you recover more quickly.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is treated by removing the foreign object, if possible, and stopping the aspiration of more food or fluids. This may mean that you're not permitted to eat and will be given calories and fluids through an IV or via a feeding tube. 

Antibiotics are also an important part of treatment to help minimize the bacteria collecting in your lungs and prevent the infection from worsening. This type of pneumonia can be challenging to treat and may require an extended course of antibiotic treatment.

Wani SA, Kumar P. Fenugreek: A Review on Its Nutraceutical Properties and Utilization in Various Food Products. Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences. April 2018;17(2):97-106. doi:10.1016/j.jssas.2016.01.007.

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