Health Tools & Information

Pneumonia - adults - discharge

What happpened in the hospital

You have pneumonia, which is an infection in your lungs. In the hospital, your doctors and nurses helped you breathe better. They also gave you medicine to help your body get rid of the germs that cause pneumonia. They also made sure you got enough liquids and nutrients.

What to expect at home

You will still have symptoms of pneumonia after you leave the hospital.

  • Your cough will slowly get better over 7 to 14 days.
  • Sleeping and eating may take up to a week to return to normal.
  • Your energy level may take 2 weeks or more to return to normal.

You will need to take time off work. For a while, you might not be able to do other things that you are used to doing.

Self-care

Breathing warm, moist air helps loosen the sticky mucus that may make you feel like you are choking. Other things that may also help include:

  • Placing a warm, wet washcloth loosely over your nose and mouth
  • Filling a humidifier with warm water and breathing in the warm mist

Coughing helps clear your airways. Take a couple of deep breaths, 2 to 3 times every hour. Deep breaths help open up your lungs.

While lying down, tap your chest gently a few times a day. This helps bring up mucus from the lungs.

If you smoke, now is the time to quit. Do not allow smoking in your home.

Drink plenty of liquids, as long as your doctor says it is OK.

  • Drink water, juice, or weak tea.
  • Drink at least 6 to 10 cups a day.
  • Do not drink alcohol.

Get plenty of rest when you go home. If you have trouble sleeping at night, take naps during the day.

Medicines

Your doctor may tell you to take antibiotics. These are medicines that kill the germs that cause pneumonia. Antibiotics help most people with pneumonia get better.

Do not miss any doses. Take the medicine until it is gone, even if you start to feel better.

Do not take cough or cold medicines unless your doctor says it is OK. Coughing helps your body get rid of mucus from your lungs.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you if it is OK to use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) for fever or pain. If these medicines are OK to use, your doctor will tell you how often to take them.

Stay away from infections

  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Ask your doctor if you need a pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Stay away from crowds.
  • Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.

Going home with oxygen

Your doctor may prescribe oxygen for you to use at home. Oxygen helps you breathe better.

  • Never change how much oxygen is flowing without asking your doctor.
  • Always have a back-up supply of oxygen at home or with you when you go out.
  • Keep the phone number of your oxygen supplier with you at all times.
  • Learn how to use oxygen safely at home.
  • Never smoke near an oxygen tank.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor if your breathing is:

  • Getting harder
  • Faster than before
  • Shallow and you cannot get a deep breath

Also call your doctor if:

  • You need to lean forward when sitting to breathe more easily
  • You are using muscles around your ribs more to help you breathe
  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath
  • You are having headaches more often than usual
  • You feel sleepy or confused
  • Your fever returns
  • You are coughing up dark mucus or blood
  • Your fingertips or the skin around your fingernails is blue

References

Limper AH. Overview of pneumonia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 97.

Mandell LA, Wunderink RG, Anzueto A, et al. Infectious Diseases Society of America/American Thoracic Society consensus guidelines on the management of community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Clin Infect Dis. 2007;44:S27-S72.

Wunderink RG, Waterer GW. Clinical practice. Community-acquired pneumonia. N Engl J Med. 2014;370:543-551.


Review Date: 5/12/2014
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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