The thought of pneumonia can be scary. While the statistics of pneumonia fatalities are improving, it is still considered a very serious illness. In the United States alone, pneumonia is responsible for 1.1 million hospital stays lasting 5 days or longer. It is most serious in adults over 65 and infants. Pneumonia is often a bacterial infection of the lungs, but around one-third are viral. Pneumonia vaccinations greatly reduce the risk and are on the rise among elderly adults. This article will help you understand pneumonia, how to deal with it, and how to prevent it.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It is usually a secondary infection stemming from infection elsewhere in the body, usually the upper respiratory tract. This happens because the nose and upper respiratory tract normally take care of germs before they get to the lungs. There are certain circumstances that may cause them to get down there anyways including weakened immunity to infections, an overwhelming upper respiratory infection with a large amount of germs, or a pre-existing condition like, asthma.

When an upper respiratory infection turns into a lower respiratory infection, inflammation sets in and the body sends in white blood cells to try to combat the germ invasion. The lungs form excess mucus to try and protect the tissues from damage and they become overwhelmed with fluid. This lowers the amount of oxygen sent into the bloodstream and can cause complications.
You can get pneumonia in one or both lungs or in just a tiny part of one lung.

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The symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Severe productive cough (sputum is green, yellow, or bloody)
  • Chills and fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain with cough
  • White nail beds

In older patients, you may notice confused or disordered thinking.


There are several different types of pneumonia including:

Bacterial pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is usually secondary after you have recovered from influenza or even a minor cold. The infection usually starts in the nose or throat and drops into the lungs if your immune system is weak. Anyone can get this type of pneumonia.

Viral pneumonia. Viral pneumonia stems from the upper respiratory tract and this is the most common type with children. They are short lived and usually not serious. For some, viral pneumonia can be severe if caused by influenza. It can prevent air from moving in and out of the lungs and causes “air hunger.” Secondary bacterial pneumonia can result on top of the existing viral pneumonia to further complicate the illness, but this is rare and only seen in people with underlying health conditions.

Mycoplasma pneumonia. Mycoplasma are germs that look like both viruses and bacteria. The pneumonia is most often mild, but can become complicated in people with weak immune systems. They are more common in children and young adults.

Tuberculosis pneumonia. Pneumonia caused by TB isn’t very common, but very serious if it does occur. It needs to be treated very early on to prevent complications or death.

Aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia happens when fluids, foods, or other irritants are inhaled into the lungs.

Pneumocystis carinii. This is thought to be a fungal infection that causes pneumonia in AIDS patients. It is highly treatable if caught early, but can return. Many doctors choose to treat this type of pneumonia long-term to prevent it from coming back.

Risk Factors

The following groups are at higher risk for pneumonia:

  • Infants under the age of 2
  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Lung Disease (asthma, cystic fibrosis, COPD)
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Hospitalization
  • Weak Immunity
  • History of organ transplant
  • Chemotherapy Patients
  • Steroid Use
  • Inability to swallow or cough
  • Sedative use
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Recent viral infection

Exposure to air pollutants or chemicals


If you suspect pneumonia, see your doctor right away. He or she will ask about any recent illness, exposure to illness or irritants, and your medical history. They will then perform the following:

Examination. The doctor will listen to your lungs to check for sounds that indicate you have fluid in your airways.

Chest x-rays. These will look for the presence of fluid in your chest.

Lab testing. The doctor can order a Complete Blood Count to look for the presence of white blood cells that signal a bacterial infection. They can also tell if you have a viral infection.

Sputum culture. The doctor may have you cough up some of the phlegm in your lungs to send out for testing. This is especially helpful if you are not responding to treatment and they need to find out what antibiotic will work for you.

Pulse oximetry. This will tell how well your lungs are processing oxygen. Oxygen saturation needs to be above 90 percent, but in pneumonia can often fall below that guideline. Some people need to be in the hospital on supplemental oxygen until they are feeling better.

Bronchoscopy. This isn’t a common test, but the doctor may order one if you are not responding to treatment. This can check for foreign bodies in your lungs or check for anything else that may be causing the pneumonia. A thin tube is passed through your nose into your lungs. There is a tiny camera on the end allowing the doctor to see into your airways.


Treatment for viral pneumonia is just supportive to relieve your symptoms. The virus will clear on its own in days to a few weeks and the cough can last a lot longer. The treatment for bacterial pneumonia includes:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain and fever medications
  • Cough medicine
  • Nebulizer treatments (medications you inhale to open your airways)

If you do not respond well to treatment at home, you may need to be hospitalized for the following complications:

  • Excessive vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Age over 65 or under 2
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Fast heart rate

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

There are no alternative treatments nor home remedies that can treat pneumonia, but you do have options that will help treat the symptoms. If you are concerned you have pneumonia, see a doctor immediately and check to make sure any alternative medicine you are considering is okayed by your physician. The following are alternative treatments that can help relieve symptoms of pneumonia:

Herbal teas. Eucalyptus, fenugreek, and peppermint teas are herbal teas you can use to help soothe your throat, break up mucus, and ease pain caused by inflammation. Fenugreek seed tea may reduce mucus and encourage sweating which helps to lower your temperature. Ginger and turmeric teas can help reduce the chest pain caused by coughing often. Fresh ginger or turmeric root tea are helpful remedies that act as an anti-inflammatory in the body.

Essential oils. Tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils can help to relieve your cough. Placing a few drops in a diffuser will disperse the medicinal essential oils and help you relax as well. If you feel that the oils are worsening your symptoms, discontinue use immediately.

Saltwater gurgle. The coughing and mucus in your throat and chest can cause your throat to be irritated. A saltwater gurgle can help ease the discomfort and may fight off germs in the throat.


You can help prevent pneumonia with the following tips:

  • Take your yearly flu shot and a pneumonia shot
  • Stay out of crowds during flu and pneumonia season
  • Practice good hand washing
  • Quit smoking

See your doctor if you have an upper respiratory infection.

Lifestyle Changes

If you have pneumonia, follow these tips to help you get better fast and relieve symptoms:

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration causes the secretions in your lungs to become too thick and makes it harder to breathe. Getting enough fluids will help your body fight off the infection better.

Rest. Get enough rest, but not too much time in bed. You need to move around to help your lungs clear. Steer clear of heavy work and exercise until you feel up to it.

Take all of your medications the doctor prescribed. Even if you feel better, take all of your antibiotics to prevent a relapse.

Do NOT smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke will irritate your lungs. It is very dangerous to smoke with pneumonia.

Be careful with cough medications. Talk to your doctor before using cough medicine. Cough syrup that contains an expectorant can make more mucus and pairing that with a cough suppressant can cause this mucus to sit in your lungs. Your doctor can tell you the best way to relieve the cough, but it really is needed to clear any fluid.

Change positions and cough every two hours. Change your position and cough every two hours. This helps to prevent the secretions from sitting in one spot and helps clear it from your body.


American Thoracic Society. (2020, October). What is pneumonia? Retrieved from American Thoracic Society:

Johnson, J. (2020, April 27). Are there any home remedies for pneumonia? Retrieved from Medical News Today:

Mackenzie, G. (2016, December). The definition and classification of pneumonia. Pneumonia, 8(1). Retrieved from ResearchGate:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2020, September 10). Pneumonia. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health:

Wani, S. A., & Kumar, P. (2018, April). Fenugreek: A review on its nutraceutical properties and utilization in various food products. Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences, 17(2), 97-106. Retrieved from ScienceDirect:

World Health Organization. (2010, March 25). Treatment and prevention of pneumonia: Report by the Secretariat. Sixty-Third World Health Assembly, Provisional agenda item 11.23. Retrieved from World Health Organization:


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