Antibiotics do not treat viral pneumonia. Antiviral medication only works against influenza pneumonia and some pneumonias caused by the herpes family of viruses. Antiviral drugs may be tried, especially if the infection is caught early.
Treatment may also involve:
Use of humidified air
A hospital stay may be needed to prevent dehydration and to help with breathing if the infection is serious.
People are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if they:
Are older than 65 years or are children
Are unable to care for themselves at home, eat, or drink
Have another serious medical problem, such as a heart or kidney problem
Have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better
Have severe symptoms
However, many people can be treated at home. You can take these steps at home:
Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. Do not give aspirin to children.
Do not take cough medicines without first talking to your doctor. Cough medicines may make it harder for your body to cough up sputum.
Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
Get a lot of rest. Have someone else do chores.
Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment within 1 to 3 weeks. Some cases are more serious and require a hospital stay.
More serious infections can result in respiratory failure, liver failure, and heart failure. Sometimes, bacterial infections occur during or just after viral pneumonia, which may lead to more serious forms of pneumonia.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if symptoms of viral pneumonia develop or your condition gets worse after starting to improve.
Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, diapering a baby, and before eating or preparing food.
Do not smoke. Tobacco damages your lungs' ability to ward off infection.
Vaccines may help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions.
A drug called palivizumab (Synagis) is given to some children under 24 months old to prevent pneumonia caused by respiratory syncytial virus.
Flu vaccine prevents pneumonia and other problems caused by the influenza virus. It must be given each year to protect against new virus strains.
If your immune system is weak, stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.
Lee FE, Treanor J. Viral infections. In: Mason RJ, VC Broaddus, Martin TR, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 31.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.