Pneumonia in Children

Symptoms of pneumonia in children can be tough to spot.

Sick girl (8-9) with thermometer in mouth
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Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs to which children are particularly vulnerable. Often following a cold or the flu, pneumonia can affect one or both lungs. When you have pneumonia, air sacs in your lungs fill with pus or other liquid and oxygen has trouble reaching your blood.

In children pneumonia is often caused by viral infections, including RSV, the parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, and the flu.

In addition to viruses, pneumonia can also be caused by bacteria. Although it is usually a milder form of pneumonia than other bacterial forms of pneumonia, the symptoms can be bothersome, lingering for a month or more.

Pneumonia is diagnosed in about 4 percent of children in the US each year, with the highest rates in children under age 12 months old. Children who get pneumonia more than once in a single year may have a problem with their immune system.

Most children with pneumonia can be treated at home, although some do need to be admitted to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics, fluids, oxygen therapy, or for additional help with their breathing. Children with pneumonia can develop a pleural effusion or empyema, which sometimes need to be drained.

Fever can sometimes be the only symptom of pneumonia in children.

Just because your child has a cough and a fever doesn't mean that he has pneumonia.

Without other respiratory signs, such as rapid breathing, it is more likely that his symptoms are caused by an upper respiratory tract infection, although you should discuss any such symptoms with your pediatrician.

Pneumonia Symptoms

After having symptoms of a mild upper respiratory tract infection, such as a runny nose and mild cough, children who develop pneumonia may have a sudden worsening and develop other symptoms, including a worsening cough, a fever, increased respiratory rate, labored breathing (tachypnea), wheezing (usually a sign of viral pneumonia), cyanosis, decreased breath sounds, chest or abdominal pain, vomiting and nasal flaring.


The World Health Organization defines tachypnea as a respiratory rate of more than 50 breaths per minute for infants two to twelve months of age, more than 40 breaths per minute for children one to five years of age, and more than 30 breaths per minute for children over age 5.

A pediatrician will be able to determine whether your child has pneumonia with a chest X-ray and blood culture. A pulse ox test to check your child's oxygen level may also be done if he is having a lot of trouble breathing.

Pneumonia Treatments

Antibiotics are the usual treatment when a child is suspected of having bacterial pneumonia. Treatments for other types of pneumonia will depend on the cause, although there is usually no specific treatment for most viral causes of pneumonia.

And remember that there are vaccines that can prevent many types of pneumonia, including the Pneumovax vaccine, Prevnar 13, Hib, DTaP, Varivax, MMR, and the flu vaccine.

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