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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Pneumonia - When To Call a Doctor

The faster you get treatment, the faster you will get over pneumonia. This is especially true for the very young, for people older than 65, and for anyone with other long-lasting (chronic) health problems, such as asthma.

Call911or other emergency services immediately if you:

Recommended Related to Lung Disease/Respiratory Problems

ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome)

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a rapidly developing, life-threatening condition in which the lung is injured to the point where it can't properly do its job of moving air in and out of the blood. Doctors first recognized the syndrome in 1967, when they came across 12 people who developed sudden breathing problems and rapid lung failure. All of them had similar patchy spots on their chest X-rays. At first, the condition was called adult respiratory distress syndrome, so people...

Read the ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) article > >

  • Have chest pain that is crushing or squeezing, is increasing in intensity, or occurs with any other symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Have such bad trouble breathing that you are worried you will not have the strength or ability to keep breathing.
  • Cough up large amounts of blood.
  • Feel that you may faint when you sit up or stand.

Call a doctor immediately if you have:

  • A cough that produces blood-tinged or rust-colored mucus from the lungs.
  • A fever with shaking chills.
  • Difficult, shallow, fast breathing with shortness of breath or wheezing.

Call a doctor if your cough:

  • Frequently brings up yellow or green mucus from the lungs and lasts longer than 2 days. Do not confuse mucus from your lungs with mucus running down the back of your throat from your nasal passages (postnasal drip). Postnasal drainage is not a worry.
  • Occurs with a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher and brings up yellow or green mucus from the lungs (not postnasal drainage).
  • Causes you to vomit a lot.
  • Continues longer than 4 weeks.

Also call your doctor if you have new chest pain (more than just discomfort when you cough) that gets worse with deep breathing and if you have other symptoms of pneumonia, such as shortness of breath, cough, and fever.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you get better on your own, you won't need treatment. If you get worse, you and your doctor will decide what to do next.

Home treatment may be appropriate if:

  • You have classic cold symptoms (nasal stuffiness, mild body aches or headache, mild fever).
  • You cough up mucus that is running down the back of the throat from the nasal passages (postnasal drip). But a cough in which the mucus is definitely coming from the lungs rather than the nasal passages is a more serious problem, and you should contact your doctor.
  • You have signs of the flu (high fever, severe muscle aches or headache, and mild respiratory symptoms). For more information, see the topic Influenza.

Who to see

Health professionals who can diagnose and treat pneumonia include:

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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