Recovering from pneumonia

Most people make a full recovery from pneumonia. On this page, find out what you can do to help your recovery.

Recovering from pneumonia

Most people make a full recovery from pneumonia. It’s impossible to say exactly how quickly you’ll recover, but this table gives a general guide:

1 week your fever should be gone
4 weeks your chest should feel better and you should produce less mucus
6 weeks you should cough less and find it easier to breathe
3 months most of your symptoms should be gone, though you may still feel tired
6 months most people will feel back to normal – but for some it will take longer

Drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of rest while you’re recovering.

If you smoke, it’s important to quit. If you continue smoking, it will probably take longer for you to recover, and you’re more likely to get pneumonia again.

While you’re resting in bed, turn over at least every hour while you’re awake. Breathe deeply five to ten times and then coughing or huffing strongly. This will help to clear any phlegm in your lungs.

You can find out more about using breathing techniques to clear your lungs from the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care. They’ve produced an information leaflet about the Active cycle of breathing techniques that you can download. It’s best to learn breathing techniques from a physiotherapist. Talk to your GP about what’s available in your area.

You may find breathing exercises helpful. Here’s an exercise that will help you expand your lungs fully:

  • place your hands on your stomach
  • take a controlled deep breath in through your nose; your hands will rise on your stomach as you breathe in
  • if able, hold this breath for a count of 2-3
  • breathe out slowly through your mouth.

Ask your doctor about starting to exercise again. Keeping active will help you to get stronger. Even a short walk every day could help speed up your recovery. If you feel chest pain, shortness of breath or dizziness when you try to exercise, stop for the day. If the symptoms continue, contact your GP or call 111. If you or someone you know is struggling to breathe or has collapsed, call 999.

If the pneumonia symptoms continue, your doctor will organise a chest X-ray six weeks after you started your antibiotics. You will also have an X-ray after six weeks if you’re in a high-risk group – particularly if you smoke or are over 50. This is to make sure the infection has gone and there are not any other problems with your lungs.

Pneumonia sometimes causes scarring of the lungs, known as pulmonary fibrosis. We have support for people living with this condition. Severe pneumonia can also cause bronchiectasis, especially if you have it as a child. We have information and support about this condition.
Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment in 1-3 weeks.

Recovering from COVID-19 pneumonia

Often people with COVID-19 pneumonia are ill for longer than people with bacterial pneumonia or other kinds of viral pneumonia, especially if the pneumonia is severe or if you’re elderly. This is because the virus affects many small areas of the lung more gradually.

If you have severe COVID-19 pneumonia and you have to go into intensive care, you’ll have a follow-up consultation 4-6 weeks after being discharged from hospital, to make sure your recovery is going well. All patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 pneumonia will have a follow-up chest X-ray around 12 weeks after they are discharged.

COVID-19 pneumonia can cause long-term lung problems, including scarring of the lungs, known as pulmonary fibrosis, especially if the pneumonia is severe. We have support for people living with this condition. If you are living with long-term lung problems after COVID-19, you may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. Ask your GP or practice nurse about getting a referral.

More help and support

For more advice about pneumonia call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800, 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri (excluding Bank Holidays). Our friendly team can help answer your questions or worries.

Get support

Call or WhatsApp our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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