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Patient education: Pneumonia in children (The Basics)

Patient education: Pneumonia in children (The Basics)

What is pneumonia? — Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes coughing, fever, and trouble breathing. It is a serious illness, especially in young children. Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or viruses. The most likely cause of pneumonia depends on the child's age:

In babies and children younger than 5 years, pneumonia is more likely to be caused by a virus

In children older than 5 years, pneumonia is more likely to be caused by bacteria

What are the symptoms of pneumonia? — Common symptoms include:

Cough

Fever

Breathing faster than normal

Trouble breathing ("retractions") or pain when breathing in (figure 1)

Restlessness or trouble feeding (in babies)

Not all children with pneumonia have the same symptoms. But if your child seems sick and has both a cough and a fever, they might have pneumonia.

Should my child see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you think your child might have pneumonia, see a doctor or nurse right away. Pneumonia can be very serious in children, especially if it is not treated right away.

Call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, call 9-1-1) if your child:

Stops breathing

Starts to turn blue or very pale

Has a very hard time breathing

Starts grunting

Looks like they are getting tired of having to work so hard to breathe

If a doctor or nurse thinks your child might have pneumonia, they will do an exam and listen to your child's breathing. They might also take an X-ray of your child's chest.

How is pneumonia treated? — Treatment depends on the child's age, how serious the pneumonia is, and whether it is caused by bacteria or a virus. Some children who are very sick, especially young children or babies, might need to be treated in the hospital.

Pneumonia that is caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. They are available in pill or liquid form. Make sure that your child takes all of their antibiotics, even if they start feeling better before finishing them.

Antibiotics do not help with pneumonia that is caused by a virus. But your child's doctor or nurse might try other medicines if they think they will help.

How soon will my child feel better? — Most children who are treated with antibiotics start to feel better 2 to 3 days after they start taking the medicine. Even so, your child might still feel tired or have a cough for a few weeks or even months after being treated. It might also be a few months before they can breathe comfortably while exercising.

How should I take care of my child at home? — Try to keep your child as comfortable as possible, and make sure that they get lots of rest. You should also give your child plenty of fluids to drink. For babies and very young children, it might help to offer small amounts of fluids frequently (instead of large amounts less often).

Medicines such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) can help relieve pain and fever. The correct dose depends on your child's weight, so ask your child's doctor how much to give.

Do not give your child medicines that quiet a cough. These medicines don't usually work well, and they can have serious side effects in children. Also, do not give aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin to children younger than 18 years. In children, aspirin can cause a serious problem called Reye syndrome.

Call your child's doctor or nurse if your child gets worse at any time or does not seem to be getting better after 2 days. Your child might need a different type of treatment.

What can I do to keep my child from getting pneumonia again? — Wash your child's hands often with soap and water. It is 1 of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection. You can use an alcohol rub instead, but make sure the hand rub gets everywhere on your child's hands.

There are several vaccines that help to protect against pneumonia. Talk to your child's doctor or nurse about which vaccines your child should get, and when they should get them.

More on this topic

Patient education: Pneumonia in children – Discharge instructions (The Basics)
Patient education: Fever in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Bronchiolitis and RSV in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Flu (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough, runny nose, and the common cold (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for babies and children age 0 to 6 years (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaccines for children age 7 to 18 years (The Basics)
Patient education: Pneumonia in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use an incentive spirometer (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use a pulse oximeter (The Basics)

Patient education: The common cold in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Bronchiolitis and RSV in infants and children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Fever in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Pneumonia prevention in adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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