Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia

woman with pneumonia symptoms

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Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of your lungs. When you have pneumonia, your air sacs become inflamed and fill up with fluid or pus, leading to symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, and fatigue.

Symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening. How severe your symptoms are depends on what is causing the infection, your age, and your overall health. That's why knowing the symptoms and understanding when to seek medical care is so important.

Common Symptoms 

There are several types of pneumonia, which are categorized based on the type of germ causing the infection. Bacterial, fungal, and viral infections are the most common causes of pneumonia. While each type of pneumonia has distinct characteristics, there are common symptoms across all types. These include:

  • Cough, with or without mucus 
  • Chest pain that worsens when taking a deep breath or coughing
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Sweating 
  • Confusion, especially in older adults

Bacterial Pneumonia Symptoms 

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can vary. Sometimes you can develop the infection slowly over a few days, while others may have a sudden onset of symptoms. Bacterial pneumonia also tends to be more severe than other types of pneumonia. Common symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:

  • High fever (up to 105°F) 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Chills
  • Wet cough with yellow or green phlegm
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails due to lack of oxygen 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Viral Pneumonia Symptoms 

Symptoms of viral pneumonia develop gradually and are often mild initially. Initial symptoms of viral pneumonia are flu-like and may include:

However, your symptoms may get worse within one to two days after they begin. That said, you might experience:

  • A worsening cough 
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity 
  • Chills 
  • Sharp, stabbing chest pain 
  • Fatigue
  • Clammy skin 

Fungal Pneumonia Symptoms 

Fungal pneumonia can develop after inhaling airborne spores of certain types of fungi. People with weakened immune systems (e.g., those with chronic lung diseases, HIV/AIDS, cancer, or autoimmune disorders) have a higher risk of developing fungal pneumonia.

Symptoms of fungal pneumonia usually develop gradually over several days or weeks after exposure to the fungus and may include: 

  • Cough, sometimes with blood-tinged phlegm
  • Chest pain 
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 
  • Chills

Walking Pneumonia Symptoms

Walking pneumonia—also called atypical pneumonia—is a milder form of pneumonia that usually causes symptoms that do not affect your ability to carry out your daily activities. Symptoms of walking pneumonia may feel more like a common cold rather than pneumonia.

With walking pneumonia, it's common to have the following symptoms:

  • Cough 
  • Fever
  • Chest pain 
  • Chills 
  • Headache 

Symptoms in Children 

Infants and children can develop pneumonia. In fact, young children under the age of five are especially vulnerable to pneumonia because their immune systems are still developing. Symptoms that you should look out for in children include:

  • Fever 
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Cough 
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain 
  • Low energy 
  • Vomiting 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Blue-colored lips and skin 
  • Irritability or fussiness 
  • Stuffy or runny nose 

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

If you or your child have symptoms of pneumonia, it's important to see a healthcare provider for a physical examination, diagnosis, and treatment. With pneumonia, seeking early treatment before the infection worsens is best. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and help you or your child recover sooner.

However, certain symptoms of pneumonia warrant immediate medical care due to their severity and potential for complications. You should reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you or your child experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • High fever that persists for more than a few days
  • Sudden worsening of symptoms
  • Altered mental state (e.g., confusion)
  • Blue-colored lips or fingertips

A Quick Review 

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can affect people of all ages. Common pneumonia symptoms include coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, fever, and fatigue. Symptoms may develop suddenly or gradually, depending on the type of germ causing the infection. For example, bacterial pneumonia often has a sudden onset, while viral pneumonia symptoms usually develop gradually. 

By being aware of the signs and symptoms of each type of pneumonia and seeking timely medical care, you can seek treatment to help your body recover, lower the risk of serious health complications, and improve your overall quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can pneumonia clear up on its own?

    ​​Pneumonia caused by bacteria or fungi usually requires medical treatment with antibiotics or antifungal medications. While mild cases of viral pneumonia may resolve with rest and hydration, seeking medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment is recommended.

  • How long does pneumonia usually last?

    How long pneumonia lasts varies from person to person, depending on your age, overall health, and the type of pneumonia you have. With appropriate treatment, pneumonia symptoms improve within a week or two, but fatigue may persist for a month or longer.

  • What are the four stages of pneumonia?

    The four stages of pneumonia are the congestion period, red hepatization, grey hepatization, and resolution. The stages describe the progression of the infection and its effects on the lung(s). The congestion period is when the lungs are red and inflamed with fluid-filled air sacs. Red and grey hepatization stages occur when the immune system works to clear the infectious agent (e.g., bacteria) that is causing your symptoms. Resolution is when the body’s immune response and treatment have effectively cleared the infection, and the air sacs and lungs begin to recover. 

  • Does pneumonia get worse at night?

    Some pneumonia symptoms, such as a cough, can worsen at night. This is because gravity causes mucus to pool in the throat when lying down to sleep, triggering the cough reflex. Because pneumonia causes the lungs’ air sacs to fill with fluid, laying flat on your back may make breathing more difficult. Try propping your head with extra pillows or lying on your side to help relieve your cough and make breathing easier while you sleep. 

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