Pneumonia in Children
What is pneumonia in children?
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild or serious. Pneumonia is generally
more common in children younger than 5 years old.
What causes pneumonia in a child?
Pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria or viruses. Some of these bacteria and
viruses can be spread by direct contact with a person who is already infected with
Common bacteria and viruses that may cause pneumonia are:
Pneumonia may sometimes be caused by fungi.
Which children are at risk for pneumonia?
A child is more likely to get pneumonia if they have:
Weak immune system, such as from cancer
Ongoing (chronic) health problem, such as asthma or cystic fibrosis
Problems with the lungs or airways
In addition, children younger than 1 year old are at risk if they are around secondhand
tobacco smoke. This is especially true if their mother smokes.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia in a child?
Symptoms may be a bit different for each child. They may also depend on what is causing
the pneumonia. Cases of bacterial pneumonia tend to happen suddenly with these symptoms:
Early symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia. But
with viral pneumonia, the breathing problems happen slowly. Your child may wheeze,
and the cough may get worse. Viral pneumonia may make a child more at risk for bacterial
In addition to the symptoms listed above, your child may have:
Fast or hard breathing
The symptoms of pneumonia may look like other health problems. Make sure your child
sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is pneumonia diagnosed in a child?
Your child’s healthcare provider can often diagnose pneumonia with a full health history
and physical exam. They may include these tests to confirm the diagnosis:
Chest X-ray. This test makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
Blood tests. A blood count looks for signs of an infection. An arterial blood gas test looks at
the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
Sputum culture. This test is done on the mucus (sputum) that is coughed up from the lungs and into
the mouth. It can find out if your child has an infection. It’s not routinely done
because it is hard to get sputum samples from children.
Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To
get this measurement, the provider tapes a small sensor onto a finger or toe. When
the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless,
and the red light does not get hot.
Chest CT scan. This test takes images of the structures in the chest. This is done only in cases
of complicated pneumonia or if your child is not responding to routine treatments.
Bronchoscopy. This procedure is used to look inside the airways of the lungs. It is very rarely
Pleural fluid culture. This test takes a sample of fluid from the space between the lungs and chest wall
(pleural space). Fluid may collect in that area because of the pneumonia. This is
called a pleural effusion. This fluid may be infected with the same bacteria as the
lung. Or the fluid may just be caused by the inflammation in the lung.
How is pneumonia treated in a child?
Treatment may include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. No good treatment is available
for most viral pneumonias. They often get better on their own. Flu-related pneumonia
may be treated with an antiviral medicine.
Other treatments can ease symptoms. They may include:
Plenty of rest
Getting more fluids
Cool mist humidifier in your child’s room
Acetaminophen for fever and discomfort
Medicine for cough or wheezing
Some children may be treated in the hospital if they are having severe breathing problems.
While in the hospital, treatment may include:
Antibiotics by IV (intravenous) or by mouth (oral) for bacterial infection
IV fluids if your child is unable to drink well
Frequent suctioning of your child’s nose and mouth to help get rid of thick mucus
Breathing treatments, as ordered by your child’s healthcare provider
What are possible complications of pneumonia in a child?
Pneumonia can be a life-threating illness. It may have these complications:
How can I help prevent pneumonia in my child?
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be prevented with a vaccine that protects against 13 types
of pneumococcal pneumonia. Doctors recommend that children get a series of shots beginning
at age 2 months. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about this vaccine. Another
vaccine is available for children older than 2 years who are at increased risk for
pneumonia. Talk with your child's healthcare provider to see if it is recommended
for your child. Also make sure your child is up-to-date on all vaccines, including
the yearly flu shot. Pneumonia can occur after illnesses such as whooping cough and
You can also help your child prevent pneumonia with good hygiene. Teach your child
to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Your child should also wash
their hands often. These measures can help prevent other infections, too.
Your child can be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. There are two types of
vaccines that can help prevent pneumococcal disease. The vaccine that is right for
your child depends on their age and risk factors. Talk with your child's healthcare
provider about which vaccine is best for your child and when they should get it.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child’s symptoms get worse. Or if they
A fever for more than a few days
New symptoms, such as neck stiffness or swollen joints
Trouble drinking enough fluids to stay well hydrated
Call 911 right away if your child has any of these symptoms:
Problems swallowing or they are drooling
Trouble breathing or needing to lean forward to breathe
Problems opening mouth fully
Skin looks blue, purple, or gray in color
Loss of consciousness or problems waking or feeling faint or dizzy
Shortness of breath with a fast heartbeat
Key points about pneumonia in children
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild or serious.
The illness can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Some common symptoms include fever, cough, tiredness (fatigue), and chest pain.
Treatment depends on the cause of the pneumonia.
Some types of pneumonia can be prevented with a vaccine. Good handwashing and hygiene
can also help.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.