Recovering from Pneumonia
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that occurs at the end of the bronchial tubes, in the tiny air sacks called alveoli, where oxygen enters the bloodstream and carbon dioxide is released every time you breathe. After a bout with pneumonia, your lung function may never be the same because pneumonia can damage infected lung tissue and cause scarring. The damage can affect the amount of oxygen that enters the body and the amount of carbon dioxide that leaves.
Getting less oxygen can leave you feeling tired and perhaps short of breath.
Muscle weakness is common after pneumonia due to a lack of activity and possible weight loss during your illness. People with other conditions such as lung or heart disease may experience an increase in symptoms.
Although you can’t undo the damage to your lungs caused by pneumonia, you can progress in your recovery by following the guidelines in these pages. Making a few lifestyle changes will help you get back to your normal activity.
What to Expect in the Hospital
Being in the hospital can seem frightening. The staff will do their best to keep you informed and comfortable. You will likely have an IV (intravenous) catheter in your arm or hand to enable you to receive antibiotics and fluids. The nurse will check your fluids and the IV insertion site every hour. If you notice redness or swelling or you experience any discomfort, please tell the nurse immediately.
You can expect close observation and assessment of your condition. The nurse will frequently check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, respiration, and oxygen level. Occasionally, this may interrupt your sleep. The staff will do their best to allow you to rest, as this is also very important for your recovery.
You may need supplemental oxygen during your stay. Personnel from our Respiratory Therapy Department as well as your nurse will monitor your progress.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe respiratory treatments to help open your air passages to improve breathing and help you cough more effectively. You may be instructed in how to effectively cough and deep-breathe and to use an incentive spirometer or a flutter valve. These devices can improve your lungs’ ability to clear mucus and to improve oxygen intake.
Blood will be drawn to do cultures and to test blood counts. You may also be asked to provide a sputum sample for culture. Sputum must come from deep within your lungs; spittle will not work for this test. The nurse will provide you with instructions, or the respiratory therapist may assist you in obtaining the sample.
You may receive a cough suppressant or an expectorant as indicated by your healthcare provider. Pain medication may also be indicated. Coughing helps rid the body of mucus from the lungs. It is important that you be comfortable enough to cough, and pain medication can help. Pain medication can also suppress your ability to cough, however, making your pneumonia worse, so pain medications should be used only as directed by your healthcare provider.
It is important to continue to be active during your recovery, so staff members will assist you in being out of bed and in a chair. This is good for your breathing, it helps prevent blood clots from forming in your legs due to limited activity and poor circulation, and it will help you maintain strength and have a better outlook on your recovery.
A physical therapist may also begin working with you. Your goal is to regain strength and independence as soon as possible.
You may also meet with one of our dietitians. Your body requires good nutrition to recover well. Your diet goal is to eat at least 50 percent of your food by day 2 of your stay and 75 percent by day 3. Please ask the nurse if you need medication for nausea or would like something specific to eat. Dietary supplements may also be encouraged.
The Importance of Hand Washing
Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent illness. Please remind anyone who comes into your room to wash their hands before they touch you.
The hospital has hand sanitizers near every room, so you may not see staff washing their hands. Please ask if you are concerned. Family and visitors will also need to wash or use the hand sanitizer.
Leaving the Hospital and Recovering at Home
If you have not yet made a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider at the time of discharge, call and make one as soon as possible. You should meet with your healthcare provider during your recovery. You may also be referred to a specialist, such as a pulmonologist, cardiologist, or nutritionist, for additional help.
Be sure that you have a complete list of your medications when leaving the hospital. Share this list with all your healthcare providers. Keeping a current medication list is essential to receiving the best and safest medical care.
Antibiotics are strong medicines that kill bacteria. They don’t kill viruses that cause colds and flu. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, which means the drugs won’t work to kill the bacteria causing your illness, making it hard to treat the infection. Three main things can make bacteria resistant to antibiotics:
- Not taking antibiotics as directed (for example, not finishing the entire prescription)
- Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them
- Using antibiotics too often
Your healthcare provider will decide if your illness can be safely treated with antibiotics.
What You Can Do
If your healthcare provider prescribes antibiotics for you:
- Take them exactly as directed.
- Finish all the pills, even if you start feeling better. This way the antibiotics have a chance to kill all the bacteria.
- Don’t save pills for later or share them with other people.
- Misuse of an antibiotic can allow the bacteria to survive and become resistant to that drug, creating a “superbug.” This limits future treatment options.
- Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to make sure that the combination of antibiotics, medicines, supplements, or over-the-counter remedies you may be taking is not a problem.
If you are taking medications for other conditions such as heart disease, these may need to be adjusted. Take all your medications as prescribed during your recovery, even if you feel better. Do not stop your medication without first contacting your healthcare provider for instructions.
Your healthcare provider may recommend that you take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to help relieve pain, fever, or an uncomfortable dry cough. Take these only as directed.
Coughing that expels mucus from your lungs is a very important part of your recovery. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms continue or worsen.
Practice the following to breathe easier and improve your energy level:
- Continue to drink six to eight glasses of fluid per day unless otherwise instructed.
- Continue to increase your daily activity by sitting up or taking short walks to regain your strength.
- Take rest breaks.
- Continue your breathing exercises or deep breathing and controlled cough.
- If you were given an incentive spirometer or a flutter valve, continue to use it at home.
- Continue good personal hygiene and hand washing.
- Avoid contact with people who have a cold or the flu. Your immune system and lungs are weakened from
- the pneumonia, and this puts you at higher risk for another lung infection.
If you smoke, quit. Smokers have a much higher risk of pneumonia. Consult your healthcare provider for assistance in quitting and remaining a nonsmoker for life.
Call (800) QUIT-NOW [784-8669] or visit quitnow.net/oregon.
Ask your healthcare provider for smoking cessation help.
Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Even after you have fully recovered, you will be at higher risk of developing lung infections and pneumonia in the future. Knowing the signs and the symptoms of a lung infection can help you take action and get proper treatment early. Call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- A minor cough that won’t go away
- Fatigue or muscle aches
- Coughing that expels mucus
- Increase in the amount of mucus or a change in its color or thickness
- Shortness of breath and painful breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms may be different for people over age 65 and those who suffer from lung disease, heart disease, or other chronic diseases.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Pneumonia
- You, your family, and your caregivers need to continue to practice good personal hygiene and frequent hand washing.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Continue to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Healthy food choices can help boost your immune system and help you both physically and mentally. Add more whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables to your diet.
- Increase your physical activity. This helps your body stay strong and boosts your immune system.
- Staying active also relieves stress. Too much stress can weaken the body’s defense against colds and flu.
- Carry hand sanitizer with you for times when washing your hands is not possible.
- Use disposable tissues instead of handkerchiefs, which hold on to germs.
- Your healthcare provider may recommend supplements such as zinc or vitamin C to be taken when you feel a cold coming on. These may help strengthen your body’s defenses and shorten the duration of a cold. These supplements are not for everyone, however, so always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
- Flu and pneumonia vaccines can help reduce the chance that you will get sick. A pneumonia vaccine is usually recommended for people who have had pneumonia. Ask your healthcare provider if and when you should have these vaccines.
Palliative Care Support
Ask your healthcare provider about palliative care. Palliative care providers support patients and families living with serious illness. This type of care focuses on providing people with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis. It encompasses the whole self, caring for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients and families to improve quality of life. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage of illness.
Palliative care providers can help you communicate openly and supportively. Communicating about advance care planning in a loving and caring way can help make these discussions easier. Palliative care providers can also help you navigate the sometimes-confusing world of healthcare. This will assist you in getting the most from your healthcare.
Learn More About Pulmonary Health
Lung Disease Information
Pulmonary Health Online Support
Smoking Cessation Help