Pneumonia

Disclaimer: This fact sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

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What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is inflammation or infection of one or both lungs caused by a virus or bacteria. Another name for pneumonia is a chest infection. Whole sections of the lung may become blocked by the infection, so that air cannot enter the lungs properly.  The doctor probably suspected pneumonia when examining your child. And the diagnosis of pneumonia is confirmed by a chest x-ray, which will show “consolidation” (swelling of the lung) and sometimes a buildup of fluid known as “effusion”.

Pneumonia occurs in all age groups. Recovery usually takes seven to ten days followed by a week of recovery. Hospitalisation is rarely necessary.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary greatly depending on the age of the child and the organism or bug which has caused the illness. Children often have one or more of:

  • fever
  • fast and/or difficult breathing
  • cough

Children may also

  • headache
  • vomit
  • be irritable or lethargic
  • sometimes have pain on breathing or abdominal pain
  • not wanting to eat or drink

How is it treated?

Most children with pneumonia will be able to be treated at home.   They will usually be given antibiotic medication to take.  They will need to rest and to drink small amounts of fluids often. They may be more comfortable sleeping propped up on a couple of pillows.

There is no place for cough medicines for children with pneumonia.

Your child may need to avoid doing activities which need a lot of energy. Try to get your child to do more restful activities e.g. reading, watching TV, and doing puzzles.

Tobacco smoke will aggravate coughing, so you should not let anyone smoke around your child.

Some children need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.  This is usually if they

  • are under one year of age
  • are unable to take medicine by mouth
  • have become dehydrated
  • have severe breathing problems

Treatment will involve antibiotics given intravenously (through a drip) if the pneumonia is thought to be caused by bacteria.  Some children may require oxygen to help them breathe more easily. 

How long will my child be unwell?

Children with bacterial pneumonia usually improve a lot within a day or two of starting antibiotics. Their fever will come down, they will have more energy and their breathing will ease. They may, however, continue to cough for days to weeks. Viral pneumonia will not respond to antibiotics and the recovery is more gradual, usually 2 to 4 weeks.

It is very important to complete the course of antibiotics if these have been prescribed.

When to come back?

If at any stage during treatment for pneumonia your child develops more severe breathing difficulty or increased drowsiness you should contact the doctor. If they vomit and are unable to drink much you will need to return for review.

Some children need to be checked after a few days. A few weeks after the illness you will probably need to see a doctor to make sure your child has recovered completely.

If you are worried about your child at any stage during the illness or you have other questions you should make contact with your doctor to discuss your concerns or take the child to hospital.

Remember

  • In bacterial pneumonia, treatment with antibiotics leads to quick recovery.
  • A chest X-ray may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
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The Children's Hospital at Westmead
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Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick
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Hunter New England Kids Health
www.hnekidshealth.nsw.gov.au

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