What does pneumonia feel like?

Pneumonia is an illness characterized by infection and inflammation of the air sacs present in either or both the lungs. There may be buildup of pus or fluid in the air sacs, leading to fever, coughing with pus or phlegm, breathing problems, and chills. Pneumonia may arise due to infection by varied pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.

Pneumonia can be a minor or serious condition. It is especially life-threatening for young children, infants, the elderly, and high-risk individuals like those with a compromised immune system or those with pre-existing health issues.

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The different types of pneumonia can be treated with medications like antivirals, antibiotics, etc.

Symptoms – What does pneumonia feels like?

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can differ from mild to intense, as per the patient’s age, his/her general health, and the kind of infection-causing germ. Mild symptoms typically mimic those observed during cold or flu, but they persist for a longer period.

Pneumonia may feel like:

  • High-risk people as well as the elderly over 65 years of age will experience lower than usual body temperatures. Older people may also experience sudden alterations in their levels of mental awareness.
  • Infants and newborns with pneumonia may not elicit any symptoms; or they may experience fever, coughing, restlessness, vomiting, exhaustion, lethargy, and feeding and breathing difficulties.
  • Perspiration, fever and shaky chills
  • Coughing, accompanied by removal of sticky, thick liquid.
  • Breathlessness
  • Pain in the chest, when coughing or breathing deeply
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting and/or nausea


High-risk people are most susceptible to developing life-threatening complications of pneumonia, as listed below:

  • Patients with prolonged lung conditions or severe pneumonia will be unable to inhale sufficient oxygen. They may be hospitalized and put on a mechanical ventilator till the lung heals.
  • Development of pus in a lung cavity can lead to formation of an abscess. It is treated with antibiotics or via pus-drainage or surgery carried out with the help of a tube or a long needle inserted into the abscess.
  • Pneumonia-causing bacteria may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. The infection thus migrates to other organs thereby posing increased risk of organ failure.
  • There may be accumulation of fluid in the tiny space occurring between the chest cavity and the layers of tissue lining the lungs. Infection of such fluid may require treatment options like surgery or pus-drainage.


Pneumonia can be caused due to varied causes, often due to infection by bacteria and viruses that get inhaled. Depending on the place where the infection was acquired and the kind of infecting pathogen, pneumonia is categorized into the following types:

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  • Community-acquired pneumonia: Infection occurs outside of health care centers, hospitals, and other such medical facilities. Causes include:
    • Infection by bacteria like Streptococcus pneumonia. It may arise after a bout of flu or cold or on its own. It typically affects 1 pulmonary lobe and causes lobar pneumonia.
    • Infection by varied viruses, including those causing flu and colds. Viral community-acquired pneumonia is generally minor and often affects children younger than 2 years old. SARS and other such influenza viruses can however result in serious pneumonia.
    • Infection by bacteria-like pathogens like Mycoplasma pneumonia; it typically causes mild signs and symptoms such as those observed in ‘walking pneumonia.’
    • Infection by fungi, which can pass on via bird droppings and soil. Individuals who have breathed in excessive amounts of fungi, or those belonging to high-risk groups are prone to develop this type of pneumonia.
    • Health care-acquired pneumonia: People who seek treatment (like kidney dialysis) in outpatient health care facilities, or those staying in such clinics for prolonged periods are most likely to develop this bacterial infection form of pneumonia. The bacteria at such care centers are increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
    • Hospital-acquired pneumonia: It is a type of bacterial infection which affects people who have stayed at a hospital for 48 hours or more for treating some other illness. It can be serious as the bacteria at hospitals are also often increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
      • Individuals on ventilators or breathing machines are more prone to developing this form of pneumonia.
      • Aspiration pneumonia: This form of pneumonia is caused due to inhalation of drinks, food, saliva, or vomit into the lungs. Aspiration typically occurs due to disturbances in the usual gag reflex, which in turn may occur due to underlying swallowing conditions, brain injuries, or drug or alcohol abuse.

Some of the risk factors which can increase the susceptibility to developing varied types of pneumonia are as follows:

  • An increased age of over 65 years.
  • Infants younger than 2 years, as their immune systems are still in the developmental stages.
  • Weakening of the immune system due to chronic smoking.
  • Presence of a compromised, suppressed, or weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy treatment for cancer, organ transplantation, and/or prolonged use of steroids.

Treatment of pneumonia

Mild cases of community-acquired pneumonia can be treated with medicines at home. Routine check-ups are performed by the doctor to verify if the infection is getting cleared.

As per the severity and type of pneumonia, as well as other factors like the general health of the patient, his/her age, etc., doctors may opt for the below listed treatment options:

  • Medications like ibuprofen or aspirin to decrease fever.
  • Cough medications to loosen and eliminate fluid from the lungs, thereby calming the cough and allowing patients to rest peacefully.
  • Viral pneumonia is treated with anti-viral drugs; symptoms typically abate in 1 to 3 weeks.
  • Identification of the type of bacteria afflicting the patient and administration of relevant antibiotics to cure bacterial pneumonia. Doctors will opt for a different antibiotic if the symptoms do not ease up within a few days.
  • Patients older than 65 years of age; infants younger than 3 months old, with breathing troubles, excessive sleepiness, dehydration, and decreased levels of oxygen in the blood; as well as those experiencing confusion, a drop in blood pressure, excessive vomiting and nausea, rapid breathing, and lower than normal body temperatures, etc. may need to be hospitalized.
  • Patients with severe symptoms may be placed in a ventilator in the ICU section of a hospital.

An annual flu shot as well as a pneumonia vaccination can help prevent certain types of pneumonia and subsequent health complications. Other preventive measures include intake of a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, practicing good hygiene, and quitting smoking.

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