Pneumonia: symptoms, treatment, types of antibiotics

Most people know that pneumonia is a serious illness and must be treated with antibiotics. Normally you will recover within a reasonably short period of time. However, there are also forms of pneumonia that can be very dangerous and even life-threatening. It is therefore important to consult a doctor at an early stage. Learn more about the symptoms and treatment of pneumonia and what you can do to prevent it from getting worse.


  • Causes of pneumonia
  • The symptoms of pneumonia
  • Treatment of pneumonia
  • What medications can be prescribed?


Causes of pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the alveoli and the surrounding tissue of one or both lungs and is usually caused by an infection, but sometimes also by a virus or bacteria. When you suffer from pneumonia, the blisters in your lungs become filled with fluid due to the inflammation.
The most common form of pneumonia is caused by an infection with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). However, there may also be other causes, such as a virus, a gram-negative bacterium or another so-called ‘atypical’ pathogen. The following causes of pneumonia are the most common:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae (hib)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Escherichia coli
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Mycoplasmata
  • Chlamydiae
  • Mold

Many people who die from pneumonia have a weakened immune system that has already been affected by another condition such as AIDS, syphilis or heart failure.

The symptoms of pneumonia

Because it is important to consult a doctor at an early stage, it is also important to know how to recognize symptoms of pneumonia and not confuse them with a bad cold. The following symptoms are consistent with pneumonia:

  • Fever
  • Cold that doesn’t go away and keeps spreading
  • Shortness of breath, tightness and chest pain
  • A ‘bubbling’ feeling in the chest when breathing
  • Coughing up mucus
  • Muscle pain without an apparent cause
  • Fatigue and general malaise
  • Headache
  • Decreased or completely absent appetite

If you experience several of these symptoms and have the feeling that this is more than a bad flu or bad cold, it is important to consult your doctor. The use of antibiotics may need to be started quickly. In some cases, this can also prevent a respiratory infection from developing into pneumonia.

Treatment of pneumonia

It is important to treat pneumonia because neglected pneumonia can lead to permanent damage to the alveoli, causing lung capacity to decrease. In most cases, treatment with antibiotics (in the case of a bacterial cause), rest, painkillers and plenty of fluids is sufficient. However, hospital admission cannot be avoided for people who fall into risk groups or in cases where complications occur. This happens in 20 to 40% of cases.
The type of antibiotics prescribed depends on the group of bacteria that needs to be combated. If a course of antibiotics has been prescribed, it is important to complete the course even if all symptoms have disappeared before the end of the course. In case of side effects, a doctor should be consulted. Antibiotics do not work against a viral infection. If the underlying cause is a virus, no medications are normally prescribed. However, antiviral drugs can be prescribed for people with a weakened immune system.
With a course of antibiotics, the patient usually improves after two to three days. However, the coughing may persist for some time. The treatment may not work. The most common cause for this is that a bacterium has become immune to the antibiotic.

What medications can be prescribed?

Dozens of different types of antibiotics are used in the fight against pneumonia. The most commonly prescribed drugs are the following:

  • Amoxicillin (possibly in combination with clavulanic acid)
  • Azithromycin
  • Cafazolin
  • Cefaclor
  • Cephalexin
  • Ceftazidime
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Clindamycin
  • Doxycycline
  • Erythromycin
  • Fusidic acid
  • Linezolid
  • Ofloxacin
  • Ribavirin
  • Rifampicin
  • Sulfamethoxazole (in combination with Trimethoprim)
  • Vancomycin


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