Recovery From Pneumonia: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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An infection that affects the air sacs in the lungs, pneumonia can range from mild to severe with such symptoms as coughing (with and without mucus), chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Pneumonia recovery time depends on the severity of illness, when you start treatment, and how you respond to treatment. Typically, pneumonia recovery can last between a week to more than a month for all symptoms to end.

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Pneumonia treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have. 

There are three types of pneumonia based on the germs that cause the infection. These include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia: This type is typically treated with antibiotics. The specific antibiotic the doctor prescribes depends on the pathogen’s sensitivity to the drug, your  allergies to antibiotics (if present), other medications you may be taking, and your overall health. 
  • Viral pneumonia: Antibiotics will not cure viral infections. In fact, there generally are no treatments for the infection itself, although your doctor may prescribe or recommend medicine to relieve your symptoms. These could include fever reducers, pain relievers, and cough medicine, although you don’t want to completely eliminate your cough as it helps loosen and remove mucus in your lungs. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, it is because you have a secondary bacterial infection on top of the primary viral infection.
  • Fungal pneumonia: If you have this type, your doctor likely will prescribe antifungal medicine. 

Pneumonia recovery may include hospitalization. 

For severe cases of pneumonia, you may need to stay in the hospital where you can receive treatments not available over the counter or at the local pharmacy.

For instance, you may need oxygen to supplement your lungs until they recover and can work at full capacity again. You also may need higher doses of antibiotics or other medicines, which a healthcare professional administers directly into the bloodstream through an intravenous (IV) line.

To help loosen the mucus in your lungs, you may need a series of breathing treatments coupled with breathing exercises.

People at a higher risk for hospitalization with pneumonia include:

  • Infants and young children
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with a suppressed immune system
  • People with a health condition that affects the lungs or heart

 

If you are hospitalized for pneumonia treatment, your full pneumonia recovery time could be 6 to 8 weeks or longer, although you may go home well before then.

Pneumonia recovery time is not the same for everyone.

Just as pneumonia doesn’t affect everyone the same, pneumonia recovery time will vary between people. Your age, general health condition, type of pneumonia, and severity of pneumonia all play a role in your pneumonia recovery time.

Once you start antibiotics, those with bacterial pneumonia may start to see improvement within 24 to 48 hours. If you have viral pneumonia, it may take a few extra days after treatment starts before you begin to feel better.

Pneumonia recovery tips include staying hydrated and getting a lot of rest.

To help your recovery, :

  • Take all medications as directed.  
  • Drink plenty of fluids to loosen mucus and prevent dehydration
  • For trouble breathing, put a humidifier in your room or take a steamy shower or bath. 
  • Get plenty of rest. For trouble sleeping due to coughing, ask your medical professional about taking a cough suppressant to help you rest.
  • Slowly get back to your regular routine. 

Know when to call your doctor. 

Although most patients start to feel better within a couple of days of starting treatment, that is not true in every case. If your symptoms don’t improve within a few days, contact your doctor. If symptoms, such as fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, or coughing with mucus reappear (after initially subsiding) or worsen, contact your doctor straightaway.

If you are in a high-risk group, such as being immunocompromised or are older than 65 and there is no improvement in symptoms after a few days, check in with your doctor promptly.

Pneumonia symptoms may linger.

Although pneumonia recovery time can be as short as a week, it is common for some pneumonia symptoms to continue after you start to feel better. For instance, you may still tire more easily during pneumonia recovery.

A cough may linger as your lungs continue to heal and rid themselves of mucus. Depending on how severe your case of pneumonia, it may take up to a month or so before you feel like you did before the pneumonia.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Dec 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Pneumonia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-con

  1. Pneumonia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4471-pneumonia 
  2. Pneumonia Treatment and Recovery. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/treatment-and-recovery 
  3. Pneumonia in Adults – Discharge. MedlinePlus, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000017.htm