The treatment you receive if you are diagnosed with pneumonia will depend on the type that you have. There are many different types of pneumonia and many of them are treated differently.
First, you will need an official diagnosis. This is typically done by asking questions about your illness, performing a physical exam and taking a chest x-ray, although if your health care provider is looking for more specific information, he may also order other tests. Some of the tests that may be needed include blood work, a sputum culture, a CT scan of your chest, a pulse oximetry reading or a bronchoscopy. Your doctor may be able to determine the type of pneumonia you have based on your symptoms and what your chest x-ray looks like, but sometimes more tests are needed.
Once the diagnosis has been made, you can expect to be treated based on your symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with viral pneumonia, antibiotics will not help make you feel better so don't expect them. Most importantly, you need to rest and take care of yourself. Don't try to do everything you always do or it will take you long to recover. Sleep or rest when you feel tired, stay hydrated and accept help when it is offered.
Your health care provider may recommend over the counter or prescription medications to help manage your symptoms. They will bring you some relief from the discomfort your symptoms are causing but will not cure the illness. Occasionally, an antiviral medication may be prescribed. Most of the time, viral pneumonia goes away on it's own in one to three weeks.
Some common medications that might be recommended include:
- Fever reducers and pain relievers - such as Tylenol, ibuprofen or aspirin
- Inhaler or nebulizer treatments - such as albuterol
- Cough Medications - Expectorants may help loosen and remove mucus but typically cough suppressants are NOT recommended
Bacterial pneumonia will be treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotics used will be determined by your doctor. Bacterial pneumonia can be severe and may require hospitalization for IV antibiotics.
Other than antibiotics, your treatment options for bacterial pneumonia are similar to those for other types of pneumonia. You can manage the symptoms with over the counter or prescription medications that your health care provider recommends (see the examples above).
Get as much rest as possible. If you have pneumonia, you need rest so that your body can fight the infection and heal. Don't try to do everything you normally do and rest when you feel tired. The more you are able to rest, the quicker you will get better.
Drink plenty of fluids. You hear this a lot no matter what illness you have, but it is really important. Drinking more water will help thin the mucus in your body, making it easier to expel when you cough. It sounds gross, but it's an important part of recovering from pneumonia.
Run a humidifier. Similar to drinking water, running a humidifier will keep your airways moist, especially when the air is dry in your house.
Mycoplasma pneumonia usually is not as severe as bacterial or viral pneumonia, so the course of treatment may be a slightly different. It's often referred to as "walking pneumonia", meaning that you don't feel sick enough to stay in bed, you can still walk around.
Technically, Mycoplasma pneumonia is caused by a bacteria and in some cases is treated with antibiotics but it often goes away on it's own without treatment as well.
Although you may not need to stay in bed when you have Mycoplasma pneumonia, getting extra rest, staying hydrated and taking medications to relieve the symptoms you do experience should help you recover more quickly.
No matter what type of pneumonia you have, it's important to see your health care provider, get an accurate diagnosis and determine what the proper treatment plan is for you. If you are being treated for pneumonia but feel like your symptoms are not improving, or they start to get better but then worsen again, seek medical attention again. These could be signs that your condition is not responding to treatment or that you have developed another infection.
Do not ignore your symptoms, pneumonia is a serious illness. It is one of the top 10 leading cause of death among Americans when combined with the flu. Although it is more serious for older adults, young children and people with weakened immune systems, anyone can get it. If you think you or someone you care for might have pneumonia, seek medical attention.
"How Is Pneumonia Treated?" Explore Pneumonia 01 Mar 11. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. US Department of Health and Human Services. 23 Nov 12.
"Understanding Pneumonia." Lung Disease 2012. American Lung Association. 23 Nov 12.