What are the treatments for pneumonia in children?
The treatment for pneumonia will depend on whether it is caused by bacteria or a virus. Many children can be cared for at home, but some may need to be treated in hospital.
- Will my child be given antibiotics?
- Can I look after my child at home?
- Will my child need to go to hospital?
- Is there any way to prevent pneumonia?
- Where can I find out more?
That depends on whether their pneumonia is caused by bacteria or a virus.
If it is likely that your child has bacterial pneumonia, they will be given antibiotic tablets or liquid to fight the bacteria. They will usually improve a lot within the first 48 hours - but they’ll probably continue to cough for longer. It’s important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if your child seems better.
If your child’s pneumonia is caused by a virus then antibiotics won’t work.
It’s not always easy to tell if pneumonia is caused by bacteria or a virus. To be on the safe side, your doctor may decide to give antibiotics if they can’t be sure of the cause.
Many children with pneumonia can be looked after at home.
- Make sure they get a lot of rest.
- Your child may not want to eat but it is important to make sure they stay hydrated. Give them small amounts to drink regularly.
- If your child is still in nappies you will be able to tell if they are getting enough to drink because they will still get wet nappies.
- If your child has chest or tummy ache you can give them pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen made for infants or children.
- Cough medicines don’t help with pneumonia.
- Don’t smoke around your child or let them breathe in other people’s smoke.
- A high temperature can be scary, but it is a natural response to infection. Don’t try and reduce your child’s fever by sponging them with water.
Your doctor should give you more information about the best way to look after your child at home. If your child’s symptoms get worse, go back to your doctor.
Your doctor will assess if you child should be looked after in hospital based on their symptoms and other factors, including their age. Babies under 6 months old are more likely to be admitted to hospital.
Your doctor will take into account if your child:
- has difficulty breathing
- is dehydrated because they won’t feed or drink
- can’t take antibiotics through their mouth
- is breathing very fast
- has low oxygen levels in their blood
- is not responding to the prescribed antibiotics (this may be the case if they still have a fever after about 2 days of antibiotic treatment)
- has another lung, heart or immune deficiency condition
In hospital your child may be given antibiotics through a drip. If they need it, they may be given oxygen to help them breathe more easily. If they are dehydrated, they may also be given fluids through a drip.
How long will it take my child to recover?
Some children will recover from pneumonia after ten days, but as many as half will take longer than this. Most children will have recovered after 3-4 weeks.
There are a number of things that you can do as a parent, to reduce the risk of your child developing pneumonia.
Many types of bacteria can cause pneumonia, but a common cause of bacterial pneumonia is the bacterium ‘Streptococcus pneumoniae’. The pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) is a vaccination to protect children against bacterial pneumonia caused by this bacterium. Your child should get this vaccination on the NHS. The first dose is given at 2 months old.
Your child should also have a yearly flu vaccination from the age of 2 until primary Year 5 (age 9-10) or older. This will reduce the risk of them developing pneumonia as a complication of the flu.
Remember to keep your child up to date with all their vaccinations.
Teach your child to use a tissue and wash their hands after coughing and sneezing.
Do not smoke, or let others smoke, around your child.
This makes them more likely to pick up an infection and to make their symptoms worse. For more information about the how smoke and air pollution can affect your child’s lungs, see our section on risks.
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