Relieving the symptoms of pneumonia

Mild pneumonia infections caused by bacteria can usually be treated with antibiotics at home.

If your symptoms haven’t improved at all 2 days after starting your antibiotic treatment, contact your doctor.

Your cough may last for 2–3 weeks after your infection has cleared up, but there are some simple but effective ways you can relieve your symptoms, as well as taking over-the-counter medicines for pain and fever.

What can I do to relieve my symptoms?

You can relieve your symptoms by:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids
  • avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke
  • inhaling steam; this can help relieve a blocked nose. Supervise your child while they breathe in steam from a hot bath or shower in a closed room.

You can help soothe a sore throat by:

  • gargling with warm salty water
  • sucking on an ice cube or a throat lozenge
  • drinking hot water with honey and lemon; this can also be a simple and effective home remedy.

Medicines for relieving the symptoms of pneumonia

Medicines for relieving pain and fever

  • Adults and children older than 1 month can take paracetamol
  • Adults and children older than 3 months can take ibuprofen
  • The correct dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen for children is worked out according to how much your child weighs.
  • Some people may not be able to take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Do not give aspirin for pain or fever to children younger than 12 years as it may cause serious side effects (e.g. Reye’s syndrome, see below).
  • Do not use aspirin for fever in children younger than 16 years. This is because Reye’s syndrome, which can affect brain function and cause liver damage, has been associated with aspirin use in children (this is rare i.e. fewer than 1 in 1000 people will experience the side effect).

Fevers are common in young children, especially if they have a chest infection or following a vaccination. A fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) doesn’t necessarily mean you or your child has a serious illness. In fact, a fever helps the body's immune system fight infection.

Read more about paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, measuring and administering a child’s dose of medicine and how to treat a fever.

If your symptoms do not improve, or they get worse, see your doctor.

Some tips for using pain and fever medicines safely

  • Paracetamol (or ibuprofen) is also a common ingredient in some cold and flu medicines, so it is important to check the active ingredients on the label of your medicine to avoid ‘doubling up’ and taking other medicines that also contain paracetamol.
  • 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). This is because all medicines, including herbal and natural medicines, can cause side effects and may interact with other medicines.
  • Some medicines cannot be taken by people with particular medical conditions, by people who are also taking certain other medicines, by young children, during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.

To choose the best medicine for you or your child ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice and always read the label on your medicine.

Cough medicines

Coughs that are a symptom of pneumonia can last up to 3 weeks. Your cough and other symptoms will improve with antibiotic treatment and as your body fights the infection.

Even though cough medicines are widely used to treat coughs due to a respiratory tract infection (e.g. a cold or flu), most cough medicines have not been studied in clinical trials at all, so there is very little reliable information about the effectiveness of cough medicines in adults or in children.

Cough medicines are not recommended for people with pneumonia. This is because coughing is necessary to help remove mucus from your lungs. Cough medicines that suppress coughs won’t help you to get better.

Cough medicines can also sometimes cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

Find out more about medicines for coughs and colds.

Phone for medicines information

Call the 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 minerals) from a pharmacist. Your call will be answered by healthdirect Australia (except Queensland and Victoria).

  • 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, January 2012. (Accessed 28 March 2012).
  • NHS Choices. Pneumonia – Treatment. (accessed 20 March 2012).