Pneumonia - adults - discharge

You have pneumonia, which is an infection in your lungs. In the hospital, your doctors and nurses helped you breathe better. They also gave you medicine to help your body get rid of the germs that caused the pneumonia. And, they made sure you got enough liquids and nutrition.

What to Expect at Home

You will have symptoms of pneumonia after you leave the hospital:

  • Your coughing will slowly get better over 7 to 14 days.
  • Your sleeping and eating may take up to a week to return to normal.
  • Your energy level may take 2 weeks or more to return to normal.

You will need to take time off work. For a while, you might not be able to do other things that you are used to doing.


Breathing warm, moist (wet) air helps loosen the sticky mucus that may make you feel like you are choking. These things may help:

  • Place a warm, wet washcloth loosely over your nose and mouth.
  • Fill a humidifier with warm water and breathe in the warm mist.

Coughing helps clear your airways. Take a couple of deep breaths 2 to 3 times every hour. Deep breaths will help open up your lungs.

Tap your chest gently a few times a day and lie with your head lower than your chest. This can help bring up mucus from the lungs.

If you smoke any tobacco products, STOP. Do not allow smoking in your home.

Drink plenty of liquids (as long as your doctor says it is okay):

  • Drink water, juice, or weak tea.
  • Drink at least 6 to 10 cups a day.
  • Do NOT drink alcohol.

Get plenty of rest when you go home. If you have trouble sleeping at night, take naps during the day.


Your doctor may tell you to take antibiotics. Antibiotics help most people with pneumonia get better.

Don't miss any doses. Take the medicine until it is gone, even if you start to feel better.

Do NOT take cough medicine or cold medicine unless your doctor says it is okay. Coughing helps your body get rid of mucus from your lungs.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you if it is okay to use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) for fever or pain. If these medicines are okay to use, your doctor will tell you how often to take them.

Stay Away from Infections

Get a flu shot every year. Ask your doctor if you need a pneumonia vaccine. Wash your hands often.

Stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.

Going Home with Oxygen

Never change how much oxygen is flowing without asking your doctor. See also: Using oxygen at home

Always have a back-up supply of oxygen in the home or with you when you go out. Keep the phone number of your oxygen supplier with you at all times. Learn how to use oxygen safely at home. See also: Oxygen safety

Never smoke near an oxygen tank.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your breathing is:

  • Getting harder
  • Faster than before
  • Shallow and you cannot get a deep breath

Also call your doctor if:

  • You need to lean forward when sitting.
  • You are using muscles around your ribs more.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You are having headaches more often than usual.
  • You feel sleepy or confused.
  • Your fever returns.
  • You are coughing up dark mucus.
  • Your fingertips or the skin around your fingernails is blue.


Limper AH. Overview of Pneumonia. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D. Goldman: Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2007:chap 97.

Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A, et al. Infectious Diseases Society of America/American Thoracic Society consensus guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;44:S27-S72.

Niederman M. In the clinic. Community-acquired pneumonia. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(7):ITC4-2-ITC4-14. Review.

Update Date: 5/20/2012

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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