Pneumonia in Children – Causes, Symptoms And Treatment by Dr. Srikanta J T

6 min read

Written by Dr. Srikanta J T

Dr. Srikanta J T

Dr Srikanta J.T is a Interventional Paediatric Pulmonologist based in Bangalore with 12+ years of experience.

His expertise lies in Paediatric Pulmonary Medicine, Paediatric Interventional P More

Pneumonia In Children

According to data published by UNICEF, Pneumonia remains the leading cause of death among children under five, killing 2,500 children a day. Children spend the majority of the cold months indoors, in close contact with others. Therefore pneumonia in children is more likely to occur during the colder months.

Most of the victims of pneumonia are reported to be less than two years old. (Source). The good news, though, is that most children make a complete recovery from pneumonia if diagnosed and treated on time. Continue reading to understand the causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment of pneumonia in children.

In This Article

What is Pneumonia in Children?

Pneumonia is an infection that occurs in one or both lungs. It often occurs due to the swelling of alveoli, the small air passages in the lungs. This condition occurs due to attack by germs such as bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi, etc. Pneumonia is innocuous when mild, but can be life-threatening as the severity increases.

Among the kids aged three and younger, most cases of pneumonia occur due to viruses. In older children and teenagers, most instances of pneumonia happen due to bacterial infections. Moreover, sometimes, a child could start out by having viral pneumonia, which then turns into bacterial pneumonia, and this can complicate the situation.

What Causes Pneumonia in Children?

Often, pneumonia starts after your child suffers from an upper respiratory tract infection like a cold. Sticky fluid (mucous) starts to accumulate in the lung’s air spaces, making it difficult for the lungs to work. This reduces the oxygen supply to the body. As a result, the child can develop difficulty in breathing.

Common Viruses that Cause Pneumonia are

  • Human metapneumovirus
  • Influenza virus
  • Rhinovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenoviruses
  • Respiratory syncytial virus

Some Common Pneumonia-Causing Bacteria are

  • Staphylococcus
  • Hemophilus influenza
  • Pneumococcus
  • Streptococcus
[Read : Breathing Problems In Children]

Who are at the Risk of Developing Pneumonia?

sick child

All children can develop breathing problems. However, some of them are more susceptible to pneumonia. The list includes

  • Premature babies
  • Babies taking in secondhand smoke. That is if there is a chain smoker in the family, the baby inhales the smoke passively.
  • Children who suffer from chronic lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, or cystic fibrosis.
  • Children who have recently recovered from an upper respiratory tract infection like cold or influenza.
  • Kids who have some genetic problems, such as sickle-cell anemia.
  • Children having cardiovascular problems or defects.
  • Poor nutrition can also bring down the immunity of the child adversely, which in turn makes them more susceptible to pneumonia.
  • Children having feeding problems, such as aspiration (breathing in a bit of food).
  • Kids with an immune system that is weak as a result of long-term medication (like steroids).
  • Children who have never been immunized or given immunizations on time can easily catch pneumonia when exposed to these viruses.

Symptoms of Pneumonia in Children

kid having cough

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia depend on the age and cause of pneumonia in children. Signs of bacterial pneumonia appear faster (over a day) than viral pneumonia (gradual development over days). In addition, the intensity of the symptoms varies according to the severity of the condition. The most common signs and symptoms of pneumonia in children include

  • High fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Flaring of nostrils
  • Chest pain
  • Labored breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shivers and chills
  • Abdominal pain due to persisting cough
  • Wheezing sound while breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased activities

How is Pneumonia Diagnosed in Children?

If the doctor suspects pneumonia, they will order a chest x-ray for the child. The report may reveal how bad the pneumonia is. The doctor will also prescribe blood tests, mucous tests, and sputum tests to help diagnose the cause of pneumonia. Pulse oximetry determines the amount of oxygen in the blood of the child and helps in understanding the severity of pneumonia.

How Did My Child Get Pneumonia?

Pneumonia itself is not contagious. However, it is the causative viruses and bacteria that can turn the condition infectious and contagious. There is every possibility of your child contracting pneumonia from close contact with the infected person. In addition, spending more time in closed public places like air-conditioned room increases the chances of bacterial and viral infections, leading to pneumonia.

Treating Pneumonia in Kids

Treating Pneumonia In Kids

Following are a few steps to follow while treating pneumonia in children at home and hospital:

Treatment at Home

  • Use a humidifier in your child’s room. This will make breathing easier for your child.
  • Ensure the child is getting enough rest.
  • Increase your child’s intake of fluids.
  • Every morning and evening, record your child’s temperature. Once the temperature goes above 100.40F for babies under six months or 102 0 F in the case of older children, immediately call the doctor.
  • Make sure the child completes the course of antibiotics prescribed by the doctor.
  • Paracetamol will help to relieve pain and fever. Ensure that you follow the recommended dosage and remember, an overdose of paracetamol can be dangerous.

Treatment at the Hospital

  • If your child is less than a year old and develops pneumonia, you must immediately take them to the hospital for admission. Also, if an older child gets dehydrated, is not able to take medicines orally, and has difficulty breathing, they will need hospital admission.
  • In cases of pneumonia due to a bacterial infection, your doctor may include intravenous antibiotics as a part of the treatment.
  • If your child develops breathing difficulties, oxygen may be administered to help them breathe easily.
  • In case of dehydration, intravenous fluids will be given.
[Read : Ibuprofen And Paracetamol For Your Children]

How Much Time Does it Take to Recover From Pneumonia?

With proper treatment and care, your child can recover from most kinds of bacterial pneumonia within a few weeks. Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, may take a little longer. But remember that your child may continue coughing till the sputum present in the lungs clears away. Do not worry about continued coughing from your child.

How to Prevent Pneumonia in Kids?

How To Prevent Pneumonia In Kids_

There are a few steps to prevent pneumonia in kids:

  • Ensure the household is smoke-free. Never let anyone smoke near the baby or even inside the house.
  • Never let your child come in close contact with people suffering from any kind of upper respiratory tract infections like cold and cough.
  • If any member of the family has a throat infection or cold, never mix the child’s utensils with theirs.
  • Immunization for some causes of pneumonia such as whooping cough, flu, pneumococcal disease is available and part of your child’s immunization schedule. Do get it on time to prevent your child from getting pneumonia.
  • Ensure that your child develops personal hygiene habits like washing hands.
  • Give a well-balanced diet to your child to ensure healthy weight gain. Being underweight and overweight can pave the way for infections like pneumonia.
[Read : Guide To Compulsory & Optional Vaccines For Babies]

Some Home Remedies For Pneumonia in Kids

Here are a few home remedies that can help to ease the symptoms of pneumonia in kids:

  • Rubbing garlic paste or garlic juice on your child’s chest will help to clear the phlegm accumulated in the chest and lungs.
  • Steam inhalation will also help to expel the phlegm and provide relief.
  • Heat loosens phlegm, so you can keep a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel on your child’s chest to provide relief.

Do you know of any more home remedies that can help in pneumonia,? Please do share in the comments section below.


1. Is it Common For Children to Have Pneumonia?

Yes, it is. Children below the age of 5 are more prone to pneumonia. Since their immunity is low, they can get infected easily.

2. Does Pneumonia Get Better as Child Grows?

There is no permanent cure for this. Bacterial pneumonia can be cured by antibiotics. Viral pneumonia does get better with time.

3. Can Child Get Pneumonia if Parent Smokes?

Yes, they can. This is secondhand exposure. The risk is higher in children below 1 year of age.

4. Is Pneumonia Fatal in Young Children?

No, they need not be. If diagnosed properly, they can be treated well. If not treated, it can become dangerous.

Read Also: Asthma in Toddlers: Symptoms and Treatment

Dr. Srikanta J T, MBBS, Diploma in Child Health (DCH), Diplomate of National Board(DNB), Fellowship in Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine(NUH, Singapore), Training in Interventional Pulmonology
Consultant - Paediatric Interventional Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine, ASTER CMI Hospital
10 years of experience

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