Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration

Pneumonia: 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
  • Pulling in between the ribs with each breath (retractions)
  • Sometimes painful breathing
  • Coughing
  • Fever, sometimes with chills

Most rattly breathing is not pneumonia.

What is the cause?

Pneumonia may be caused by viruses or by bacteria.

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

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 uncommon.

How is it treated?

  • Antibiotics

    If you have bacterial pneumonia you will need an antibiotic prescribed by your provider.

    Only bacterial pneumonia is helped by antibiotics. Antibiotics will not kill viruses. However, your child’s provider may start him on antibiotics because it is uncertain if pneumonia is caused by bacteria or a virus.

  • Medicines for fever

    Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for moderate fever over 102°F (38.9°C). 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. Coughing helps protect the lungs by clearing out germs.

  • Humidity

    Dry air tends to make coughs worse. Use a humidifier in your bedroom if your home is dry.

  • 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 healthcare provider?


  • Your breathing becomes more labored or difficult.
  • Retractions occur.
  • 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 Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-07
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
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 ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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