Complications of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs in one or both lungs. Pus or fluid may buildup in the air sacs, causing cough with pus or phlegm, chills, fever, and difficulty breathing. It usually affects people older than 65 and very young children, but it can affect anyone at any age. You may be at a greater risk though if you have an underlying condition such as diabetes, heart disease, and chronic lung disease. If not treated early, you may have to deal with complications.

What Are the Complications of Pneumonia?

As mentioned early, some people are at a greater risk of developing pneumonia, but it can affect anyone. It is important to seek medical treatment to avoid the following complications.

1.        Pleurisy

Pleurisy is inflammation of the two thin linings between your ribcage and lungs. It is a complication of pneumonia and leads to fluid buildup in the space between the wall of your chest and lungs – the condition is called a pleural effusion. About half of people with pneumonia end up developing pleural effusion. It makes breathing difficult because the fluid puts pressure on your lungs. In some cases, the fluid becomes infected and causes a buildup of pus – the condition is called empyema.


If an infection is present, you will have to take antibiotics to clear it. You may also have to take pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. In case of pleural effusion, it is important to drain the fluid using a thin tube or a needle.

2.        Lung Abscess

If you have pneumonia as well as a serious pre-existing illness, you may develop a lung abscess as one of the complications of pneumonia. A lung abscess is actually a cavity filled with pus that develops inside the tissue of your lungs. The most common signs of a lung abscess are swelling in your toes and fingers and coughing up foul-smelling phlegm.


You will have to take antibiotics to deal with infection. Your doctor first gives you intravenous antibiotics followed by antibiotic tablets that you have to take up to 4-6 weeks. You will feel better in 3-4 days, but you must finish the recommended course of antibiotics or an infection will develop again. In rare cases, you need to undergo surgery to drain the pus – your doctor may consider removing any damaged part of your lung in case of a serious infection.

3.        Blood Poisoning

Septicaemia or blood poisoning is a rare yet serious complication of pneumonia. It causes symptoms such as fast heartbeat, high temperature (higher than 100.4F), and a change in mental behavior such as disorientation and confusion. Other symptoms include low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, reduced urine flow, and pale skin.

It is a serious condition because infection can spread to other organs once your blood becomes infected. It can spread to the lining of your abdomen, the outer layers of your brain, your joints, and the inner layer of your heart. Also known as metastatic infections, they can be life threatening in most cases.


You need to go to the hospital because it can affect your tissue function and organs. Many people even have to be admitted to ICU for treatment and recovery. However, your doctor will determine a treatment option considering your overall health, your age, your tolerance for some specific medications, and the extent of your condition. Your doctor will also prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat bacterial infection. Your doctor may also give you specific medications and fluids intravenously to prevent blood clots while maintaining your blood pressure.

4.        Difficulty Breathing

Among the most common complications of pneumonia is difficulty breathing, which is more common when you also have chronic underlying lung diseases.


It is usually necessary to be hospitalized and be on a ventilator or breathing machine to give your lungs time to heal.

Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Developing Complications

You need to seek immediate medical attention and follow your doctor's advice to prevent complications of pneumonia. It is possible to treat your pneumonia at home with medication if you have community-acquired pneumonia. Even after receiving treatment, you may continue to feel tired for a month or so.

1.        Medications

Your doctor will give you specific medications as per your symptoms and the extent of problem. For instance:

  • Antibiotics: You will have to take antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia. It is usually difficult to identify the exact type of bacteria causing pneumonia, so your doctor usually starts with broad-spectrum antibiotics.
  • Fever reducers: You may have to take drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen to lower your fever.
  • Cough medicine: You need to take plenty of rest and take cough medicine to improve your condition. It is not always advisable to take cough medicine because it often helps loosen and move fluids out of your lungs.

Follow your doctor's advice and take medicines as they have prescribed. Never stop medication too soon even if you feel better.

2.        Hospitalization

You may have to be hospitalized if you are 65 or above or your blood pressure drops. Feeling confused, rapid breathing, feeling nauseous, and breathing difficulty will also require hospitalization. If your temperature is below normal or your heart rate is higher than 100 or below 50, you have to be admitted to the intensive care. Children under the age of 2 months with breathing problems, dehydration, and low blood oxygen levels may also be hospitalized.

3.        Lifestyle Changes

You may also consider making some lifestyle changes to avoid dealing with pneumonia or complications of pneumonia.

  • Take plenty of rest at least until your temperature becomes normal and you no longer cough up mucus. Keep in mind that pneumonia can recur, so getting plenty of rest is important.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and fluids to help get rid of mucus in your lungs.