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Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs, and is sometimes called a chest infection. Pneumonia in children can be caused by viruses or bacteria.
Because of the infection, the small airways in the lungs become swollen and make more mucus (sticky fluid). The mucus blocks the airways and reduces the amount of oxygen that is able to get into the body.
Pneumonia often comes after another respiratory infection, such as a cold. Sometimes there may be complications associated with pneumonia, but these are not common, and your doctor will monitor your child for these.
Signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary depending on your child's age and the cause of the pneumonia. Children often have one or more of the following:
You should see your GP if you think your child has pneumonia. Usually your child won’t need any tests, but sometimes a GP will order a blood test or X-ray to help diagnose pneumonia.
If your child's pneumonia is caused by bacteria, they will be prescribed antibiotics. In mild cases of bacterial pneumonia, this medicine can be taken orally at home. Children with bacterial pneumonia usually improve within 48 hours of starting antibiotics. It is very important to complete the whole course of antibiotics, even if your child seems much better. Treatment
will continue for 3 to 7 days. Your child may continue to cough for up to three weeks after treatment, but this is nothing to worry about if they are otherwise getting better.
Children who are very unwell with bacterial pneumonia may be admitted to hospital for antibiotics given directly into a vein through a drip (intravenous or IV therapy). Some children may also need oxygen or extra fluids.
Viral pneumonia is usually not as severe as bacterial pneumonia. However, recovery can be slower, taking up to four weeks. Antibiotics do not cure viruses and are not given for viral pneumonia.
After a doctor has diagnosed your child with mild pneumonia, you can usually care for them at home.
You should go back to see your GP if your child has pneumonia and:
How can I prevent my child getting pneumonia?
Keep your child up to date with their immunisations and yearly influenza shots. The best way to avoid getting pneumonia is to avoid getting respiratory infections. Teach your child not to share food, drinks and eating utensils with other children. This can be difficult in younger children, especially those at child care or kindergarten, as they often put shared toys in their mouths. Immunised children will have a much smaller risk of becoming infected with pneumonia in these instances. Good hygiene is important for preventing the spread of pneumonia, so teach your child to wash their hands thoroughly after coughing orsneezing to prevent the spread of germs.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine and Respiratory and Sleep Medicine departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed February 2018.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.