Pneumonia in Children: Symptoms and Treatment

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that may be caused by viruses or bacteria. We take a look at pneumonia in children as well as its symptoms and treatment.

An infection of the lungs, pneumonia tends to follow another respiratory infection, such as a cold. While complications can sometimes arise, these are uncommon. 

Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia in Children

Fever, sometimes with chills
Occasional painful breathing
Fast and/or difficulty breathing in severe cases of pneumonia
Abnormal patch (infiltrate) on chest X-ray

Expected Course of Treatment

Only bacterial pneumonia is helped by antibiotics. As it is difficult to distinguish bacterial from viral pneumonia in all cases, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for children who have viral pneumonia. With a course of appropriate antibiotics, the fever should settle within 48 to 72 hours from the start of the antibiotics. The coughing may take longer, up to two weeks, to resolve. However, in severe cases of pneumonia, your child will need to be admitted to hospital for antibiotic injections.

Discharge Instructions for Home Treatment

1. Antibiotics: Your child must complete the course of antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor.
2. Medicines for fever: Use paracetamol or ibuprofen for fever (>37.5°C). This can be repeated every six hours. If the fever is 39.5°C or more, you may increase the paracetamol dosage to every four hours, but only for one to two days maximum, ensuring that this is subsequently reduced to a six-hourly dosage. Overdosing of paracetamol may lead to liver damage.
3. Warm fluids for coughing spasms: Coughing spasms are often caused by sticky secretions in the back of the throat. Warm fluids usually help relax the airway and loosen the secretions.
4. Follow-up appointments: Your child needs to be reviewed by a doctor either at a specialist clinic or by a general practitioner. Keep the appointment as given by your attending doctor.

Consult Your Doctor Immediately If

Your child is breathless.
The fever is persistent beyond two to three days from the start of antibiotics treatment.
Your child is lethargic.
Your child is not drinking much fluids.
Your child is not retaining the oral antibiotics due to vomiting — he may need to be admitted to hospital for antibiotic injections or receive a change of antibiotics from his doctor.
Your child complains of chest pain.
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