While pneumonia recovery may feel like there’s no end in sight, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone recovers differently, but you can start to feel better anywhere from one week to a month.
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Following the treatment plan from your doctor is the best thing you can do to help your recovery. Most pneumonia cases are mild, meaning it’s usually safe to recover at home. Depending on what type of pneumonia you have, your doctor may prescribe you any of the following medications:
Antibiotics for bacterial infections (The most common cause of pneumonia in adults is bacteria.)
Antiviral medicine for infections caused by some viruses (This includes pneumonia caused by the Influenza A and B viruses or SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).)
Antifungal medicine for fungal infections
In some cases, pneumonia can be more severe, and you may find yourself in the hospital. This could be for several reasons, including:
Certain types of infections
Age (young children or older people)
Response to treatment
Other risk factors, such as smoking or a weak immune system
When you’re following your treatment plan from your doctor, you must finish taking all your medication. It’s common for people to stop taking their medication once they start to feel better. However, you should ensure your pneumonia is fully treated, or it may return.
Recovery from pneumonia will look different for everybody. Some people can return to work within a few weeks, while others may need a month or two to get better. Once you start treatment, you’ll probably start to feel better quickly, but you can expect to still feel tired and fatigued for about a month, or in cases of long COVID-19, it can be long-term.
The general rule is that mild cases will have a shorter recovery time than more serious ones. Many different factors will affect how severe your pneumonia is and how you recover.
You can get pneumonia at any age, but young children and older adults are at much higher risk of serious illness due to:
Weak immune systems. Babies and young children still have developing immune systems and other host defenses, such as the cilia (tiny hairs) and reflexes, making them more vulnerable to infections. Similarly, your immune system weakens as you age, along with weakening host defenses and increased amounts of comorbidities. So, as you age over 65 years, your risk is higher.
Existing medical conditions. For older adults, in particular, it is common to have other medical conditions, raising the risk of more serious pneumonia.
The pathogen — bacterial, viral, or fungal — that causes your infection plays a significant role in how severe your symptoms are.
An example of a mild infection is “walking pneumonia.” This is a mild form of pneumonia caused by a bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae.¹
Legionnaires’ disease² is a more severe infection caused by Legionella pneumophila bacteria.
COVID-19, pneumonia, and influenza vaccines are available that decrease the risk of catching certain types of pneumonia. They can also lower the risk of complications, the severity of the illness, and the time it takes to recover.
Lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking alcohol can make your pneumonia more severe and harder to recover from. Smoking can make it harder to clear mucus from your lungs and abrogate other host defenses. It increases the risk of bacterial colonization even in the absence of pneumonia.
Drinking alcohol can also prove problematic as it can weaken your immune system.
There is a long list of medical conditions that can complicate your pneumonia recovery or make your pneumonia more severe. These include:
Conditions that affect your ability to cough or swallow. Getting food or drink in your lungs can lead to infection and the development of pneumonia. Conditions such as brain injuries, stroke, or dementia could do this.
Conditions that weaken your immune system. A weakened immune system increases your chance of developing an infection. This would include things like chemotherapy or cancer treatments, or HIV/AIDS.
Conditions that require hospitalization. Hospital-acquired pneumonia is a type of pneumonia caught in a hospital setting. Being in a hospital where other people are being treated for pneumonia significantly increases your chance of catching it — especially if you are bedridden or using a ventilator.
Conditions that affect your lungs. This includes asthma, bronchiectasis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Use of certain drugs such as acid-reducing drugs, inhaled corticosteroids, or antidiabetic drugs.
While pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by a pathogen, there are some environmental conditions and toxins that can lead to the infection developing.
Firstly, pneumonia is typically a contagious, infectious disease, which means you can catch it from others in your community. Spending more time around big crowds, especially indoors increases your chance of catching it.
Frequently breathing in toxic fumes or polluted air can also increase your chance of developing pneumonia. It may increase your risk if your job involves working with toxic products or fumes.
Lastly, there is a type of pneumonia called psittacosis,³ an infection caused by bacteria from birds. Working closely with birds and animals can increase your risk of developing psittacosis pneumonia, especially if you work as a vet or in a poultry processing facility.
Along with following your treatment plan and monitoring your condition, there are a few simple things you can do to help your recovery:
Get plenty of rest and sleep. Pneumonia may make you very tired, so let your body rest.
Take it slow. Jumping back into work too soon or stopping treatment because you feel better can cause your pneumonia to come back.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Everybody will recover differently from pneumonia because everyone has different risk factors. It may take some time before you feel yourself again, and that’s okay. Following your treatment plan, monitoring your condition, getting plenty of rest, and seeking medical attention if needed are the best things you can do to help your recovery.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Legionella (Legionnaires' disease and pontiac fever) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Psittacosis | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Pneumonia treatment and recovery | American Lung Association
Pneumonia in the elderly (2001)