Medicines and treatments for children with pneumonia

Antibiotics are usually needed to treat pneumonia in children who are younger than 4 months or older than 5 years. Exactly which antibiotic your doctor prescribes will depend on:

It is important that you tell your health professional about all the medicines you or anyone in your care is taking — including prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ’natural’, vitamin or mineral supplements).

Babies

Babies 1 week old or less

Babies in this age group will be given antibiotics (usually benzylpenicillin plus gentamicin) directly into a vein (intravenously) in hospital.

Babies aged 1 week to 4 months

Babies in this age group who have symptoms of pneumonia but no fever will usually be given azithromycin (taken by mouth; e.g. Zithromax) or erythromycin (e.g. Eryc).

Babies who have symptoms of pneumonia and a fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher), will usually be given benzylpenicillin or cefotaxime directly into a vein (intravenously) in hospital.

Find out how to treat a fever, and read our medicines information about azithromycin and erythromycin.

Note about medicines names

Most medicines have two names: the active ingredient and the brand name. The active ingredient is the chemical in the medicine that makes it work. The brand name is the name given to the medicine by its manufacturer. There may be several brands that contain the same active ingredient. This website uses active ingredient names (e.g. amoxycillin), with brand names in brackets and with a capital letter (e.g. Amoxil). We also discuss medicines in groups or ‘classes’ when their effects or actions are very similar.

To find out more about active ingredients and brand names read our brand choices information.


Children

Children aged 4 months to 5 years

Viral pneumonia

When pneumonia occurs in children in this age group it is usually caused by a virus (e.g. respiratory syncytial virus, or flu virus), so antibiotics won’t be effective. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses.

Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and fever (a temperature higher than 38.5°C).

Find out how to relieve the symptoms of pneumonia, and read our medicines information on paracetamol and ibuprofen.

Bacterial pneumonia

If your child’s pneumonia is caused by bacteria (based on the results of laboratory tests), then your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

If your child’s symptoms are not severe, amoxycillin (tablets, capsules or liquid; e.g. Amoxil) will usually be prescribed.

If your child’s symptoms haven’t improved at all 2 days after starting antibiotic treatment, or their symptoms get worse, see your doctor.

Babies who were born prematurely, were born with a heart or lung problem (from birth defects), or who have leukaemia or a condition that weakens their immune system, are more likely to have severe pneumonia.

Children with a severe infection and symptoms that are rapidly worsening will need other types of antibiotics and they may also need to go to hospital, where the antibiotics will be given directly into a vein (intravenously). The type of antibiotic that your child will be given will depend on what bacteria are causing the infection.

Children aged 5 to 15 years old

Pneumonia in this age group is usually caused by bacteria and can generally be treated at home with antibiotics.

Your doctor will usually prescribe amoxycillin (taken by mouth as tablets, capsules or liquid). Amoxycillin is effective against the bacterium (Streptococcus pneumonia), which is the usual cause of pneumonia in this age group.

Your doctor may prescribe clarithromycin or roxithromycin (taken by mouth). This is for treating the bacteria Mycobacterium pneumoniae, which also causes pneumonia in children in this age group.

If your child’s symptoms are severe, they can develop other complications and so they will need antibiotic treatment or even hospitalisation, where they will usually be given antibiotics directly into a vein (intravenously). The type of antibiotic given to your child will depend on what bacteria are thought to be causing the infection.

If your child’s symptoms haven’t improved at all 2 days after starting antibiotic treatment, or their symptoms get worse, see your doctor.

To find out more, read our medicines information pages on amoxycillin, clarithromycin, and roxithromycin.

Phone for medicines information

Call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to get information about your prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and mineral supplements) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia.

References
  • Antibiotic Expert Group. Community-acquired pneumonia in children. In: eTG complete [online]. Therapeutic guidelines: antibiotic. Version 14. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2012. (Accessed 27 March 2012).
  • Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, July 2012.