Skip to main content
Pneumonia

Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both lungs. It's usually caused by a bacterial infection. It can also be caused by a virus, such as coronavirus (COVID-19).

The symptoms of pneumonia can develop suddenly over 24 to 48 hours, or they may come on more slowly over several days.

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

Less common symptoms include:

If you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell, use the 111 online coronavirus service.

If you feel unwell and have any other symptoms of pneumonia, contact your GP or use the regular 111 online service.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online or you need help for a child under 5.

Pneumonia can affect people of any age, but it's more common, and can be more serious, in certain groups of people, such as the very young or the elderly.

People in these groups are more likely to need hospital treatment if they develop pneumonia.

Pneumonia is usually the result of a bacterial infection.

As well as bacterial pneumonia, other types include:

Risk groups

The following groups have an increased risk of developing pneumonia:

A doctor may be able to diagnose pneumonia by asking about your symptoms and examining your chest.

Further tests may be needed in some cases.

Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other conditions, such as the common cold, bronchitis and asthma.

To help make a diagnosis, a doctor may ask you:

A doctor may also take your temperature and listen to your chest and back with a stethoscope to check for any crackling or rattling sounds.

They may also listen to your chest by tapping it. Lungs filled with fluid produce a different sound from normal healthy lungs.

If you have mild pneumonia, you probably will not need to have a chest X-ray or any other tests.

You may need a chest X-ray or other tests, such as a sputum (mucus) test or blood tests, if your symptoms have not improved within 48 hours of starting treatment.

Mild pneumonia can usually be treated at home by:

If you do not have any other health problems, you should respond well to treatment and soon recover, although your cough may last for some time.

For at-risk groups, pneumonia can be severe and may need to be treated in hospital.

This is because it can lead to serious complications, which in some cases can be fatal, depending on a person's health and age.

Complications of pneumonia are more common in young children, the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes.

Possible complications of pneumonia include:

You'll be admitted to hospital for treatment if you develop one of these complications.

Although most cases of pneumonia are bacterial and are not passed on from one person to another, ensuring good standards of hygiene will help prevent germs spreading.

For example, you should:

A healthy lifestyle can also help prevent pneumonia. For example, you should stop smoking as it damages your lungs and increases the chance of infection.

Excessive and prolonged alcohol misuse also weakens your lungs' natural defences against infections, making you more vulnerable to pneumonia.

People at high risk of pneumonia should be offered the pneumococcal vaccine and flu vaccine.