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Overview - Pneumonia

Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by a bacterial infection.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Symptoms of pneumonia can start suddenly or gradually over a few days.

They include:

  • a cough - it may be dry or you may cough up yellow, green or brown mucus (phlegm)
  • shortness of breath
  • a high temperature
  • loss of appetite
  • chest pain
  • an aching body
  • feeling very tired
  • wheezing when you breathe - babies may make grunting noises
  • feeling confused

Emergency action required: Call 999, 112 or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if:

  • you're having difficulty breathing
  • your lips or tongue are blue
  • you feel confused

Urgent advice: Contact your GP urgently if:

  • you're feeling short of breath
  • you have chest pain that gets worse when you breathe in or out
  • you've had a cough for 3 weeks or more
  • you're coughing up blood

Diagnosing pneumonia

Your GP may be able to diagnose pneumonia by:

  • asking about your symptoms
  • listening to your chest and back
  • taking your temperature

You may need further tests such as a chest x-ray or blood tests.

Diagnosing pneumonia

Treatment for pneumonia

Your GP may prescribe you antibiotics.

Antibiotics will not help you if the pneumonia is caused by a virus. Pneumonia caused by a virus is not usually as serious as pneumonia caused by bacteria.

Treatment for pneumonia depends on how serious your symptoms are.

Mild pneumonia can usually be treated at home by:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • taking antibiotics
  • drinking plenty of fluids

If your pneumonia is serious, you may need to be treated at the hospital.

At hospital, you will usually be given:

  • antibiotics
  • fluids through a drip
  • oxygen to help you breathe

You may be sent for a chest x-ray and blood tests to check if you have pneumonia.

Treatment for pneumonia

Who can get pneumonia

Anyone can get pneumonia.

You can get pneumonia:

  • if you have another infection such as COVID-19 (coronavirus)
  • while you're being treated in a hospital
  • by something getting into your lungs, such as water or food (aspiration pneumonia)

Higher risk for pneumonia

People at higher risk of getting pneumonia include:

  • babies and young children
  • older people
  • people who smoke
  • people with heart, lung, liver, kidney or neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis
  • people with a weak immune system
  • people with diabetes

If you are at higher risk of getting pneumonia, you should get the:

Causes of pneumonia

Pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Bacterial pneumonia is more common.

Viruses are a common cause of pneumonia in young children.

Almost all serious complications of COVID-19 feature pneumonia.

Pneumonia can also be caused by:

  • fungal infection - more likely to affect people with a weakened immune system
  • breathing in vomit, a foreign object such as a peanut or a harmful substance such as smoke
  • using a breathing machine while being treated in hospital

Preventing pneumonia

Good hygiene will prevent germs that can cause pneumonia from spreading.

This includes:

  • covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • throwing away used tissues as quickly as possible
  • washing your hands regularly with water and soap

You can help reduce your risk of getting pneumonia by preventing damage to your lungs.

This includes:

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 21 June 2023
Next review due: 21 June 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.