Diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia

A doctor can often diagnose pneumonia based on your symptoms and by examining your chest. But you may need to have a chest X-ray to confirm that you have it.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether you have pneumonia or another kind of chest infection. If it’s not clear, your GP may do a blood test or take a sputum sample to help decide if you need antibiotics.

Doctor and patient discussing treatment


Pneumonia can be serious so it’s important to get treatment quickly. The main treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics, along with rest and drinking plenty of water. If you have chest pain, you can take pain killers such as paracetamol.

Treatment depends on how severe your pneumonia is.

Mild pneumonia

If you have mild pneumonia, you may be able to manage it at home with treatment from your GP, especially if you have support from family and friends.

Your GP will prescribe a five-day course of antibiotics, which you’ll probably take as tablets. If you don’t start to feel better after three days, tell your GP – you may need a longer course of antibiotics.

More severe pneumonia

Some people are too ill to be treated at home and need to go to hospital.

If you’re too ill to drink and take tablets, you can have fluids and antibiotics through a drip in your arm.

You’ll also have access to oxygen if you need it, and the hospital staff can regularly check your temperature and breathing to see how you’re doing.

You’ll usually be given two different kinds of antibiotics at the same time. You may have to take antibiotics for seven to ten days – but you won’t necessarily have to stay in hospital that long.

People who are in hospital for other medical problems and then develop pneumonia have a high risk of becoming very ill. They may need different, more powerful antibiotics.

It’s very important to finish your full course of antibiotics – don’t stop taking your antibiotics before the end of the course, even if you start to feel better.

Next: Recovery from pneumonia >


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Last medically reviewed: October 2016. Due for review: October 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.