Signs that pneumonia is improving include, less frequent coughing and shortness of breath. How long pneumonia lasts can vary from person to person.

Healthcare professionals use the term “pneumonia” to refer to an infection in the lungs. It causes the lungs’ air sacs, or alveoli, to become inflamed and fill with pus and fluid, which can make breathing difficult. The infection may affect both lungs or just one. A variety of pathogens can cause pneumonia, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

The symptoms of pneumonia can become serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, around 1.5 million emergency room visits in the United States were due to pneumonia. Pneumonia is the ninth leading cause of death alongside influenza in the U.S.

The severity of a person’s symptoms can depend on the cause of pneumonia, their overall health status, and their age. It may take a person several weeks to recover from the condition.

This article explores the signs that suggest a person’s pneumonia is improving, a recovery timeline for the condition, and tips for recovery. It also discusses when a person should speak with a doctor.

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Everyone may have their own unique experience recovering from pneumonia. Improvement may also not follow a steady path. As pneumonia improves, a person’s symptoms may decrease in frequency and severity.

Signs that pneumonia is improving may include the following:

The recovery timeline for people with pneumonia varies. For example, according to 2020 research, people over 80 years have a poorer outlook than younger people and may take longer to recover.

Some forms of pneumonia also tend to lead to more serious illness and may take longer to recover from. For instance, bacterial pneumonia may become more severe than other forms of pneumonia.

A recovery timeline remains difficult for healthcare professionals to predict since many variables affect how severe a person’s symptoms become. For instance, according to the American Lung Association, it can take several weeks, and in some cases, even months, to recover from pneumonia.

In the case of bacterial pneumonia, most people typically respond to antibiotics in about 5–7 days and may start to see a small improvement in symptoms.

Symptoms, such as chest pain, cough, and shortness of breath, may gradually improve in a few weeks. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, some people may return to their usual routine in about 1–2 weeks. Although an improvement in symptoms gradually occurs, a person may continue to feel tired for about a month.

For those that have a follow-up chest X-ray, it may take several weeks to show that the pneumonia has cleared. Often, chest X-ray results lag behind the improvement in symptoms. A chest X-ray may take 6–12 weeks to clear.

A person should speak with a healthcare professional for more information about pneumonia recovery on an individual basis.

It may take some time for a person to fully recover from pneumonia, but there are things they can do to improve how they feel while recovering. People may consider the following tips for recovery:

  • following the doctor’s treatment plan
  • taking all medication as prescribed and instructed
  • not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, as this can make pneumonia worse
  • getting plenty of sleep to allow the body to heal
  • drinking lots of fluids to thin mucus and make it easier to cough up
  • taking steamy showers or baths to help open the airways and sitting upright to help make breathing easier
  • taking precautions to prevent spreading the infection to others, such as:
    • regularly washing hands
    • disposing of tissues immediately after using them
    • limiting contact with friends and family
    • covering the nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • eating heart-healthy foods
  • avoiding drinking alcohol and using other substances
  • doing some light exercise following a doctor’s guidance

Any time a person experiences symptoms of pneumonia, they should speak with their doctor, who can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Complications of pneumonia include:

Older adults, young children, people with compromised immune systems, and people with underlying conditions such as diabetes may be more likely to have complications from pneumonia.

Additionally, a person should consider speaking with a healthcare professional in the following instances:

  • if the current treatment does not appear to be working
  • if symptoms, such as coughing or fever, worsen
  • if symptoms return after they appeared to resolve

Doctors use the term “pneumonia” to describe an infection in the lungs. The air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

Pneumonia causes symptoms such as trouble breathing, coughing, and fever. Each person’s timeline for recovery from the condition is different. Usually, symptoms last for a few weeks. But in some cases, it may take a month or more before a person fully recovers.

People may take steps to help their recovery, such as following their treatment plan, getting enough rest, and taking steamy baths or showers. A person should speak with a healthcare professional for further information about pneumonia recovery.