Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Pneumonia in Children

June 21, 2019 | Family Medicine

If your child has a bad cough and rapid breathing, pneumonia could be the culprit. This lung infection can be alarming to parents because it can affect a child of any age and is one of the most common causes of hospital stays, according to The American Lung Association.

What Causes Pneumonia?

Pneumonia occurs when the lungs’ air sacs fill with fluid, which means oxygen cannot reach the body’s organs and tissues.

Viral pneumonia is the most common form of pneumonia, and it can stem from a common cold. Symptoms of viral pneumonia typically develop after several days. Bacterial pneumonia, however, can present a sudden onset of symptoms and is caused by several different types of germs.

If the following symptoms are present, your child may have pneumonia:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Flared nostrils
  • Blue-tinged nails or lips
  • Chest pain

Some children will not have any symptoms, which is more common for newborns and infants.

Which Children Are Most at Risk?

Unvaccinated children are at a higher risk of pneumonia. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children should receive the PCV13 vaccine, which requires several doses beginning at 2 months of age and ending at 12 to 15 months. Children younger than 2 are at higher risk compared to older children, as their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Secondhand smoke also increases a child’s risk of developing pneumonia.


Other children who are more prone to getting pneumonia may have:

  • An organ transplant
  • History of chemotherapy
  • Cancer
  • Immune abnormalities
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Damaged or missing spleen
  • HIV infection

Children with any of these risk factors should receive the PPV23 vaccine between ages 2 and 5. Receiving an annual flu shot is another step toward prevention.

How Do You Treat Pneumonia in Children?

Viral pneumonia can last up to six weeks. However, most children recover quickly with proper care—although a cough may linger once other symptoms are gone. If bacteria is the cause of the infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. If your child has a severe case of pneumonia and requires a hospital stay, treatments may include oxygen therapy, breathing support and/or IV antibiotics.

Treatment tips for parents include:

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks enough fluids. This helps the body fight the infection.
  • Give your child NSAIDs (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) under the direction of your doctor to help ease symptoms.
  • Help your child take warm baths to relieve discomfort.
  • Avoid using cough medicine unless directed by your doctor, as this can make the infection worse.
  • Take your child’s temperature in the morning and at night. Seek medical help right away if it is higher than 102°F.  For babies younger than 6 months, call the doctor for a temperature above 100.4°F.

Get medical help right away if you notice the following symptoms, as these can be signs of spreading infection:

  • Blue or gray lips or fingernails
  • Trouble breathing
  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiffness
  • Aches and pains
  • Swollen joints


If you think your child might have pneumonia, talk to your child’s doctor.


Dr. Oneida practices the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. She also performs colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries done, her practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although she enjoys all aspects of family medicine. 



“Learn About Pneumonia.” American Lung Association.

“Pneumonia.” American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Pneumonia.” KidsHealth from Nemours.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.