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HealthInfo Canterbury

How is pneumonia treated?

To diagnose pneumonia, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and examine you. You may need to go for a chest X-ray. Sometimes your doctor will ask for sputum (phlegm) or take a swab of mucus from your nose.

It is important to let your doctor know if you have been gardening with potting mix or have been overseas recently. These things can lead to different lung infections that need different treatment.

If your doctor thinks you have pneumonia, they will weigh up whether you are well enough to be treated at home. They will take into account your age, your general health, what support you have at home and how sick you are.

Treatment at home

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. It is important that you take these exactly as your doctor says. Let your doctor know as soon as possible if you think you are getting side effects that could stop you taking the antibiotics.

Your doctor will usually see you again within 24 hours to make sure you are not getting worse. You may not need to pay for this appointment.

It is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the fever and pains.

If you think you are getting worse, see a doctor straight away. Don't wait until your next appointment.

After you have taken antibiotics for three days, let your doctor know if you are not feeling any better. You might need to take a different antibiotic.

There is no clear evidence that self-care measures like cough medicine and steam inhalation will help, but some people may choose to try these things. You are likely to be infectious for the first five days or so of a chest infection, so try to avoid spas and steam rooms.

Treatment in hospital

Sometimes your doctor may feel that you should be looked after in hospital. This may be because they are worried about how bad your infection is. It might also be that you need investigations or treatments that are only available in hospital.

The medical team that cares for you in hospital will explain what they are doing to treat your infection.

Before you go home you will get any medication that you need to keep taking, and a discharge letter that explains your treatment and any follow-up care you need. You should make an appointment to see your GP in your first week back home, so they can check you are staying well.

You may need to have a chest X-ray a few weeks later to make sure your lungs have got better. Your GP will organise this.

How long will it take to recover?

It's normal to feel tired and washed out for a while after having pneumonia. But if you're still not better after three weeks, see your doctor.

How can I avoid getting pneumonia again?

Stop smoking. This is the most important way of reducing chest infections.

Make sure you have a flu vaccination every year if you have a long-term health condition such as COPD.

Some people with specific health issues should get the pneumococcal vaccine. Talk to your GP about whether this applies to you.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by community respiratory physician, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed May 2017.


Page reference: 160004

Review key: HIPNE-160002