Pneumonia in babies and children - Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious illness that affects the lungs. It’s usually caused by an infection in one or both lungs. This type of infection can be caused by bacteria or viruses.

Sometimes your child can get pneumonia straight after fighting off another infection, such as a cold or flu.

Take your child to your GP immediately if you think they have pneumonia.

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

  • your child is having difficulty breathing
  • your child’s lips or tongue are blue
  • there are long pauses between each breath your child takes

Symptoms of pneumonia

The symptoms of pneumonia can come on quickly or gradually over a few days.

They include:

  • a fever (high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more)
  • shortness of breath or fast breathing
  • a dry cough or coughing up thick yellow, green or brown phlegm (sputum)

Other symptoms can include:

  • chest pains
  • tummy pains (from coughing)
  • being drowsy or more tired than usual
  • being irritable
  • finding it hard to breathe
  • your child's nostrils getting wider as they breathe
  • your child using their tummy muscles more than usual for breathing
  • your child's ribs seeming to 'suck in' as they breathe
  • your child not drinking as much as usual or refusing drinks

Children may have some, none or all of these symptoms.

Tests your child may need

Your GP may be able to diagnose your child with pneumonia by examining them and listening to their chest with a stethoscope.

But sometimes your GP or hospital doctor will order tests to help them check if your child has pneumonia.

These might include blood tests or a chest x-ray. You can stay with your child while these tests are being done.

Read about preparing your child for hospital

Treatment for pneumonia

If your child’s pneumonia is caused by bacteria, your GP will prescribe antibiotics. These usually come in a liquid form that you give your child to drink.

If your child is very ill or if they are vomiting, they may need to go to the hospital and have antibiotics through a drip. A drip is a plastic tube that is inserted into your child’s vein, usually in their arm or hand.

Some children with pneumonia need to go to hospital for extra oxygen or fluids. If your child needs extra fluids, these are usually given through a drip.

Antibiotics will not help your child if the pneumonia is caused by a virus. But viral pneumonia is not usually as serious as bacterial pneumonia.

Caring for your child at home

After your child has been diagnosed with pneumonia, you can care for them at home if they are not seriously ill.

Let them rest – they will have less energy than usual.

Feeding your child when they are ill

If you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, offer feeds more often to your baby.

If your child is older than 6 months, offer them their milk feeds and plenty to drink. Do not worry if they do not want to eat. Try to make sure they are drinking. 

You may need to give toddlers extra fluids to stop them from becoming dehydrated.

Medication for pneumonia

You can give your child liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen for children if they have a high temperature or pain. Do not give ibuprofen to your child if they are under 3 months old.

Give them antibiotics if they’re prescribed by your GP. 

Do not give cough medicine to your child if they’re under the age of 6 unless you’ve been told to do so by your GP.

Preventing pneumonia

Make sure your child is up to date with all their childhood vaccinations. Many of these help to prevent pneumonia.

Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child in your house or car. It's better for your child if you do not smoke at all.

Teach your child not to share other people's cups or cutlery.

Page last reviewed: 5 November 2021
Next review due: 5 November 2024

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.