Common Questions and Answers
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a serious infection in the lungs. Air
sacs within the lungs fill with pus and fluid making
it hard for oxygen to get into your bloodstream.
Without enough oxygen, you may have trouble
breathing and your body cells do not work properly.
You may have:
• High fever and chills
• Shortness of breath
• A cough that may produce mucus
• Chest pain
Pneumonia can affect one or both of your lungs.
How do people “catch” pneumonia?
Most cases occur when small droplets that contain a
bacteria, virus, or fungus are breathed in. Droplets
can get into the air when someone with these germs
coughs or sneezes. Pneumonia bacteria can also be found in healthy throats. When a person’s
resistance is lower, bacteria can work their way into the lungs. Once the bacteria reach the lungs,
they settle into the air sacs and rapidly grow. The lung becomes filled with pus or fluid while the
body tries to fight off the infection.
Who is at risk?
Certain factors may put you at a higher risk for pneumonia. You are at risk if you:
• Have a chronic illness or have had a recent surgery
• Have the flu, a common cold, or a viral infection
• Smoke or abuse alcohol
• Are age 65 or older
• Have a lung disease--cancer, emphysema, or asthma
• Have poor eating habits
• Are taking medicines that suppress the immune system
How is it treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat pneumonia. The sooner you receive them, the better. Most often,
the first dose is given through an IV. They may also be given in pill form. You may need extra
oxygen until you heal.
There are other treatments that may be helpful. These include:
• Deep breathing and coughing
• Getting out of bed as much as you can
• Increased fluids
• Proper diet
• Pain relief for chest pain
• Getting up for meals when able
• Stopping smoking
What tests can I expect?
A chest x-ray is needed to confirm you have pneumonia. You can expect lab tests such as blood
cultures. You will also be asked to cough deeply and spit any mucous into a sterile cup. These
tests help the doctor to choose the best treatment options for you.
How can I prevent spreading the infection?
Be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Discard the
tissue and wash your hands. These simple steps are the best defense against the spread of
How long will I feel tired?
It may take a few weeks for you to recover. Avoid overdoing it when you go home. Your body
is using its energy to fight the infection, so take it easy and follow your doctor’s advice.
When do I need to call my doctor?
You need to call your local doctor if you have a return of your symptoms. These may include:
ξ high fever
ξ a cough that worsens
ξ shortness of breath or severe chest pain
ξ profuse sweating
ξ blue lips and nail beds
ξ confusion or delirium
ξ side effects of the antibiotics – diarrhea, nausea, or a skin rash
ξ other concerns or symptoms.
My doctor’s name: __________________________________________
My doctor’s phone number: _________________________
If you are hospitalized, you should see your doctor 1-2 weeks after discharge. Your doctor may
do a chest x-ray in 4-6 weeks to ensure that the pneumonia has resolved. If you smoke, your
doctor will discuss ways to help you quit smoking.
There are many ways you can prevent pneumonia.
To help prevent pneumonia: Reason
ξ Complete the full course of antibiotics. ξ Helps to prevent relapse
ξ Get a flu shot yearly. ξ Pneumonia can be a complication of the
ξ Get you pneumonia vaccine. ξ Prevents re-infection and eases
symptoms in the future
ξ Maintain good health habits – balanced diet,
rest, and exercise
ξ Increases resistance to respiratory
illnesses as well
ξ Quit smoking ξ Decreases chance for infection
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 2/2015. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5604.