Causes of pneumonia

Pneumonia can be caused by a virus or more rarely a bacteria. The infection stops the lungs from working properly.

The main job of the lungs is to move oxygen from the air into the bloodstream. When they're infected, the lungs can't do their job as well as normal.

Pneumonia in children: symptoms

If your child has pneumonia, she:

  • will have a moist cough
  • will have a high fever
  • might be short of breath or have difficulty breathing
  • might complain of sharp chest pains when she breathes deeply or coughs
  • might have a tummy ache and might vomit
  • might be irritable or tired.

Most children also lose their appetite and might not want to drink. A younger baby might just look very ill and breathe rapidly, without showing any of the other symptoms above.

Young babies and children with severe pneumonia are at risk of dehydration.

When to see your GP about pneumonia symptoms

You should take your child to see your GP if:

  • your child has a cough and a high fever
  • your child has difficulty breathing
  • your child is vomiting and not able to drink much
  • your young baby is listless and breathing rapidly.
Call an ambulance immediately if your child's lips look blue.

Tests for pneumonia

The GP can say whether your child has pneumonia by asking you questions about your child's symptoms and by examining him.

Your GP might send your child for a chest X-ray to check that your child definitely has pneumonia. Blood tests can sometimes help doctors to work out whether your child's pneumonia is caused by a virus or bacteria.

Pneumonia treatment

You can treat most children with pneumonia at home:

  • If your breastfed child is younger than six months, offer extra breastfeeds.
  • If your formula-fed child is younger than six months, offer her usual amount of formula. You might need to feed her smaller amounts more frequently if she's unwell.
  • If your child is older than six months, keep breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. You can also offer your child clear fluids, like water. If your child isn't hungry while he has a fever, that's OK.
  • Give your child paracetamol according to directions if she has a fever.
  • Ensure that your child gets as much rest as possible.

If your child's pneumonia is caused by bacteria, the doctor might prescribe antibiotics, which your child will need to take for a week or so. Antibiotics don't work for pneumonia caused by a virus. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between viral and bacterial pneumonia.

Smoke can make pneumonia worse, so keep your home smoke free.

If your child is very ill, or is less than one year old, he'll probably need to go to hospital for special treatment. In hospital, your child will have antibiotics through a drip (intravenously) if the pneumonia is bacterial. Some children also need oxygen to ease their breathing. Your child might also get extra fluids through a drip.

Recovery is usually quick and complete once treatment starts.