Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies




Pneumonia is an inflammation of your lungs, usually caused by an infection of your lung tissue by one of many different germs (micro-organisms).

If you have pneumonia, the infection causes the air sacs (alveoli) and smaller airways in your lungs to become inflamed. Your lungs can't work properly and aren’t able to get enough oxygen from the air into your blood. Pneumonia is caused by micro-organisms which include bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most infections occur in the autumn or winter and around one in four people with pneumonia are admitted to hospital.

If you have been infected at home or at work, it’s referred to as 'community-acquired' pneumonia. If you have been infected in hospital, it’s known as ‘hospital-acquired’ pneumonia.

Read more Close
How pneumonia affects the lungs
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection of the lung tissue


  • Symptoms Symptoms of pneumonia

    If you have pneumonia, you will feel unwell and have symptoms that may be similar to flu or a chest infection. If you have pneumonia caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium (the most common cause), it can start suddenly and rapidly get worse.

    Symptoms of pneumonia may include:

    • a cough – this may be dry at first and then becomes a green/yellow or rust-coloured and smelly phlegm
    • a fever
    • breathlessness or faster breathing
    • pain in your chest
    • shivering and night sweats
    • loss of appetite
    • confusion and unsteadiness, especially if you’re over 65
    • muscle aches and pains

    These symptoms aren't always caused by pneumonia, but if you have any then you should visit your GP. If your symptoms are severe, then seek urgent medical attention. Sometimes pneumonia can make it difficult to breathe in enough oxygen, which can be very dangerous. If your lips or the skin under your fingernails become bluish, call 999 immediately.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of pneumonia

    Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will tap on your chest and listen to how your breath sounds with a stethoscope.

    Other tests you may have include:

    • a chest X-ray to find out where the infection is and how severe it is
    • measuring the amount of oxygen in your blood using a device that clips onto your finger
    • blood tests
    • a phlegm sample to send to a laboratory for testing
    • a urine sample
  • Treatment Treatment of pneumonia


    The type of antibiotic that your GP prescribes depends on what type of bacteria has caused your pneumonia. If your GP isn't sure which type has caused the pneumonia, he or she may give you an antibiotic that covers a range of bacteria.

    You will usually need to take the antibiotics for approximately five to seven days. If you’re not feeling better within 48 hours after starting the antibiotics, it’s important to tell your GP. This is because the bacteria causing the infection may be resistant to the antibiotics. Your GP may then prescribe a different type of antibiotic.

    The antibiotics won’t work if your pneumonia is caused by a virus because antibiotics only fight bacteria, not viruses. Your body’s immune system will create antibodies to destroy the virus.

    Hospital treatment

    If you’re very ill, your GP may decide to refer you to hospital.

    You may be given antibiotics through a drip. As you get better, you may be able to come off the drip and take antibiotic tablets.

    If you’re very ill in hospital, you might need to have oxygen to help your breathing or may even need help to breathe with a ventilator – an artificial breathing machine.


    If you have pneumonia you should:

    • stop smoking
    • drink enough fluids
    • rest

    If you’re resting in bed, turn over at least once every hour while you’re awake. To help clear any phlegm that has settled in your lungs, breathe deeply five to 10 times, followed by a few strong coughs.

    If you have a fever you can take paracetamol, or for a child, a children’s paracetamol (eg Calpol). Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.

  • Private GP appointments

    With our GP services, we aim to give you an appointment the next day, subject to availability. Find out more today.

  • Recovery After your treatment

    Most people begin to feel better within three to five days after treatment, especially if treated quickly. However, pneumonia can make you feel very tired for up to six weeks afterwards. This may even be for longer if you were in hospital, are older or have another condition affecting your health. In some cases, it can take several months before you feel like you have fully recovered.

    At first, you may find it hard to walk without getting out of breath. But as you recover, your energy and lung function should return to normal.

    After six weeks, you will probably have a check up with your GP and possibly a follow-up X-ray, especially if you’re a smoker.

  • Causes Causes of pneumonia

    It isn't always possible to identify the particular micro-organism that causes your pneumonia.

    The germs may be present in your body for some time before you become ill. Alternatively, you may breathe in droplets that are in the air from other people coughing and sneezing.

    The most common cause of pneumonia is bacteria, especially S.pneumoniae. An infection caused by this organism is known as pneumococcal pneumonia. Another common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus may cause pneumonia in hospitals. The bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae causes epidemics every four years, mostly affecting children and young people. More rarely, the bacteria Legionella pneumophilia (which lives in all types of water), causes Legionnaire's disease, a severe form of pneumonia.

    Other less common causes of pneumonia include:

    • viruses, including the influenza (flu) virus and chicken pox virus
    • inhaling substances, for example pollution, chemicals, smoke or vomit

    You’re more at risk of pneumonia if you:

    • are in poor health
    • are over 65 or very young
    • smoke (smoking damages your lungs, making you more prone to infection)
    • have long-term heart or lung problems, liver or kidney disease
    • have diabetes
    • drink too much alcohol
    • have cancer or leukaemia, or are undergoing chemotherapy
    • have a weakened immune system, for example if you have HIV/AIDS
  • Complications Complications of pneumonia

    Complications of pneumonia are more common in older people and those with diabetes. They may include:

    • a build-up of fluid around your lungs (a pleural effusion)
    • severe breathing difficulties
    • an abscess in your lung
    • blood poisoning (septicaemia) as the infection spreads to other parts of your body

    If you’re being treated at home and develop complications, you may be admitted to hospital.

  • Prevention Prevention of pneumonia

    Pneumonia isn’t as contagious as illnesses such as flu but you can pick it up through infected people coughing and sneezing around you. It’s important to wash your hands regularly and to use a tissue when you cough or sneeze and bin it immediately.

    Stopping smoking will also reduce your risk of pneumonia.


    Your GP may recommend you getting vaccinated against pneumonia and flu if you’re at risk.

    There are two vaccines that can help prevent pneumonia caused by S.pneumoniae infection.

    • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV). This is for anyone at high risk, or over 65, and protects against 23 strains.
    • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). This is for children under the age of two, with the first dose given at two months old, and protects against 13 strains.

    Children also receive HiB vaccines to protect them as part of the childhood immunisation schedule.

    If you’re at risk, you can get vaccinated at your local GP surgery. Alternatively, vaccines are available from private clinics and some pharmacists. You should also consider having an influenza vaccination too, as pneumonia can develop as a complication of flu.

  • How bacterial vaccines work How bacterial vaccines work

    Play video
    How bacterial vaccines work
    Vaccines are used to protect you from infectious diseases.
  • FAQs FAQs

    I have diabetes and my doctor has recommended that I have a pneumonia vaccination. Why is this?


    If you have diabetes that isn't controlled by diet, you're more likely to get complications from pneumonia so your GP may recommend that you have a vaccination against pneumococcal pneumonia.


    Pneumonia itself is a serious infection, but if you have the type of diabetes that can't be controlled by diet, the way your body responds to infection can cause severe complications. If you have an infection, your body's glucose levels will increase. This can lead to uncontrolled diabetes and possibly to serious complications.

    The pneumococcal vaccination helps prevent you getting pneumococcal pneumonia, or makes it less severe if you do get it. If you have diabetes, you should ask your GP about this vaccination.

    All children are vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia in the childhood immunisation programme before the age of two. The vaccine is given in three doses, at ages two, four and thirteen months. However, if you child has diabetes that he or she needs to take medication for, your GP will offer a further booster after his or her second birthday.

    My mother lives in a nursing home. If she gets pneumonia, will she have to be moved to a hospital?


    Your mother's pneumonia may be treatable with antibiotics at her nursing home, as long as there are qualified nursing staff to treat her and monitor her recovery.


    Older people may not recover as well if they're moved to a hospital for treatment of a mild pneumonia. Pneumonia is associated with increased confusion in older people and this can cause distress and disorientation. Also, older people are more likely to have falls if they are in unfamiliar surroundings.

    It's therefore possible that your mother may be treated for her pneumonia at her nursing home by qualified nursing staff. The same antibiotics are used for pneumonia caught in nursing homes as for that caught in the community.

    If your mother's pneumonia gets worse and she needs specialist equipment or monitoring, she will usually need to go to hospital.

    What is 'walking' pneumonia?


    'Walking' pneumonia is usually caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It's a term used for a very mild form of pneumonia that doesn't require hospitalisation.


    Most pneumonia infections are caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae – this is called pneumococcal pneumonia. But the condition can also be caused by M. pneumoniae, otherwise known as ‘walking’ pneumonia because it tends to be a milder form of the disease and often gets better on its own without treatment.

    'Walking' pneumonia is most common in school-age children especially those aged from five to nine, adolescents and young adults, but people over 65 can also have this type of pneumonia. In older people the infection can be more serious.

    If you have 'walking' pneumonia you may have:

    • aching limbs
    • a fever
    • a headache
    • a wheezy cough

    Pneumonia caused by M.pneumoniae can sometimes be mistaken for asthma (because of the wheezy cough), and may also make asthma symptoms worse.

    Although it may not need treating, if you have walking pneumonia it gets better more quickly if treated with antibiotics. If you do have antibiotic treatment, your doctor may prescribe doxycycline, alone or combined with amoxicillin, or clarithromycin.

    Always ask your doctor for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.

    If your child has aches and a fever you can give him or her children's paracetamol (eg Calpol). Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medicine and if you have any questions ask your pharmacist for advice.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information


    • Pneumonia. British Lung Foundation., published September 2007
    • Pneumonia. Merck Manuals., published April 2008
    • Guidelines for the management of community acquired pneumonia in adults: update 2009. British Thoracic Society., published 2009
    • Community-acquired pneumonia. Prodigy., accessed 14 August 2012
    • Mycoplasma infections. eMedicine., published August 2011
    • Pneumonia: Factsheet number 331. World Health Organisation., published August 2012
    • Health protection report: Legionnaires disease in England and Wales 2008–2010. Health Protection Agency., published 2 March 2012
    • Vaccinations: Pneumonia (pneumococcal). Diabetes UK., published October 2011
    • Living with diabetes: Illness. Diabetes UK., published December 2009
    • Pneumonia. Best Practice., published 4 May 2012
    • Hoare M, Lim WS. Pneumonia: Update on diagnosis and management. BMJ 2006; 332:1077–79.
    • Guidelines for the management of community acquired pneumonia in children: update 2011. British Thoracic Society Community Acquired Pneumonia in Children Guideline Group., published 2011.
    • Community-acquired pneumonia. eMedicine., accessed 15 August 2012.
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Produced by Rebecca Canvin, Bupa Health Information Team, April 2013.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information.
    HON code logo

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Image of Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron
Head of health content and clinical engagement

  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor – UK Customer
  • Nicholas Ridgman – Lead Editor – UK Health and Care Services
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor – User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor – Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor – Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor – Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.


In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.


We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.


We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.