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Teen Version

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung that causes fluid to collect in the air sacs of the lung. These air sacs are called alveoli. Symptoms include:

  • labored breathing
  • rapid breathing
  • occasionally painful breathing
  • coughing
  • fever, sometimes with chills.

Most rattly breathing is not pneumonia.

What is the cause?

About 80% of pneumonia cases are caused by viruses and 20% by bacteria.

Viral pneumonia is usually milder than bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia tends to occur more suddenly and cause higher fevers often over 104F (40C).

Pneumonia is usually a complication of a cold. Although, colds can be passed from person to person, bacterial pneumonia is not considered contagious.

How long does it last?

Before antibiotics were available, bacterial pneumonia was dangerous. With antibiotics it improves within 24 to 48 hours. On the other hand, viral pneumonia can continue for 2 to 4 weeks. Recovery from viral pneumonia is gradual but complete.

Most teenagers with pneumonia can be cared for at home. Admission to the hospital for oxygen or IV fluids is required in less than 10% of cases.

Recurrences of pneumonia are rare.

How is it treated?

  • Antibiotics

    If you have bacterial pneumonia you will need an antibiotic. Your antibiotic is_________________________________. Take____________ every ______ hours. Continue taking the medicine for a full ______ days.

    Only bacterial pneumonia is helped by antibiotics. Because it's hard to tell bacterial from viral pneumonia in all cases, sometimes antibiotics are prescribed for viral pneumonia.

  • Medicines for fever

    Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for moderate fever over 102F (38.9C). This can be repeated every 4 to 6 hours. These medicines can also help chest pain.

  • Warm fluids for coughing spasms

    Coughing spasms are often caused by sticky secretions in the back of the throat. Warm liquids usually relax the airway and loosen the secretions. Drink warm lemonade, apple juice, or herbal tea. Sipping chicken broth might also help. Drink a lot of fluids.

    Also, breathing warm moist air helps to loosen up the sticky mucus. Fill a humidifier with warm water and breathe in the warm mist. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns.

    Don't take cough suppressant medicines (such as those containing dextromethorphan) if you have pneumonia. The infectious secretions need to be coughed up.

  • Humidity

    Dry air tends to make coughs worse. Use a humidifier in your bedroom.

  • No smoking

    Tobacco smoke makes coughs worse and last longer. Don't smoke or be around anyone who smokes. If you smoke, the cough will last weeks longer.

When should I call my health care provider?


  • Your breathing becomes more labored or difficult.
  • You start feeling very sick.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • The fever lasts over 48 hours after you start taking the antibiotic.
  • The cough lasts over 3 weeks.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-07-31
Last reviewed: 2006-02-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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