Pneumonia is swelling of the lungs. It’s usually treated with antibiotics prescribed by a GP.

Get an urgent GP appointment if you have a very bad cough and:

  • the cough doesn’t go away - it can be dry or with mucus (phlegm)
  • can't breathe properly
  • severe chest pain
  • a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery
  • feel like you have severe flu
  • sweating and shivering
  • no appetite

You can get symptoms quickly over 1 or 2 days or over a longer time like 2 to 3 weeks.

Difference between pneumonia and chest infection
Pneumonia Chest infection (bronchitis)
Fever No fever
Sweating and shivering No sweating and shivering
Very difficult to breathe Some wheezing and breathlessness but usually no severe problems
Chest pain No chest pain or only mild pain
No sore throat Sore throat

How pneumonia is diagnosed

Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are very similar to bronchitis, a bad cold or asthma. You might have to see your GP more than once.

Your GP will:

  • ask about your symptoms
  • listen to your chest
  • possibly refer you for an X-ray

Get another urgent appointment if you didn’t get diagnosed with pneumonia but your symptoms get worse over the next 3 days.

How pneumonia is treated

Your GP will prescribe antibiotics. It’s important to finish the course your doctor prescribes, even when you start feeling better.

Get another appointment if you don’t feel better within 3 days of starting your antibiotics.

You'll have a follow-up appointment with the GP after about 6 weeks to check that the treatment has worked.

If your symptoms are very severe or you have complications, the GP will refer you to hospital. You'll get antibiotics through a drip and might need oxygen to help you breathe.

How you can help your recovery


  • get plenty of rest
  • drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • drink hot lemon with honey


  • go back to work until you feel better
  • take cough medicines - there’s little evidence they help
  • smoke or drink alcohol
How to make hot lemon with honey
  1. Squeeze half a lemon into a mug
  2. Fill the mug with boiled water
  3. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey
  4. Drink while still warm

How long it takes to get better

As a general guide:

When What's changed
After 1 week High temperature gone
4 weeks Chest pain better, less mucus
6 weeks Cough and breathing problems much better
3 months Most symptoms gone but you can still feel tired
6 months You should be back to normal

How pneumonia is spread

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It's usually caused by bacteria or a virus passed from one person to another.

It's usually safe for someone with pneumonia to be around others. Most healthy people are able to fight off the germs without developing pneumonia.

People with a weakened immune system should avoid close contact with people who have pneumonia. For example:

  • babies
  • older people
  • smokers
  • people with another condition, for example a lung or heart condition, asthma, HIV or AIDS, cancer and having chemotherapy

Vaccination for pneumonia

Some people can get the pneumonia vaccination from their GP:

  • babies
  • over 65

People with:

  • a lung condition
  • a chronic illness of the heart, kidney or liver
  • diabetes
  • a weakened immune system, for example from chemotherapy or HIV
  • a small hearing device inside your ear (cochlear implant)
  • no spleen or your spleen isn’t working properly
  • a shunt that drains fluid from your brain (cerebrospinal fluid shunt)

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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