Do I Have Pneumonia?

Ah, winter. Holidays. Snow days. Sledding and skiing. Coughing, hacking, and wheezing. Winter bugs can make you wonder if you’ve got a cold, flu, or pneumonia. Your symptoms can provide a clue.

A Cold Creeps Up

Cold symptoms tend to come on slowly. They’re more likely to make you sneeze and have a runny nose and sore throat than either flu or pneumonia.

If you have a fever, headache, or severe aches and pains, chances are it’s not a cold. Those symptoms are rare in adults with colds.

Flu Pounces

The key thing about flu is that the symptoms usually come on strong, seemingly out of the blue. You may have:

These symptoms tend to ease up in 2 to 5 days, but you might have a mild cough or sore throat for 2 weeks.

Pneumonia Piles On

The symptoms of this lung infection come on slower than the flu but faster than a cold. It gets tricky because pneumonia can be a complication of colds and flu. This happens when the germs that cause colds and flu get down into your lungs. You might be feeling better, but then you start getting symptoms again -- and this time they can be a whole lot worse.

With pneumonia you might have all the symptoms of flu, but also:

  • High fever up to 105 F
  • Coughing out greenish, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Chills that make you shake
  • Feeling like you can’t catch your breath, especially when you move around a lot
  • Feeling very tired
  • Low appetite
  • Sharp or stabby chest pain (you might feel it more when you cough or take a deep breath)
  • Sweating a lot
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat
  • Lips and fingernails turning blue
  • Confusion (in older people)

A Word About Kids

Little ones who have a cold might have a fever for a few days. (Fever is rare in adults who have colds.)

When kids have bacterial pneumonia, their symptoms might be more subtle. They may have:

  • Labored and rapid breathing (more than 45 breaths a minute)
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Skin, lips, or fingertips that look blue

Symptoms in babies might be a bit vague, like fussiness or difficulty feeding.


When to See a Doctor

Call your doctor if symptoms of cold or flu do not start to get better with rest and treatment, or if the symptoms start to get worse.

If you think you have symptoms of pneumonia, don’t wait for symptoms to get even worse. Call your doctor. The same goes if you think your child has pneumonia.

Everyone who has pneumonia needs to see a doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on November 23, 2018



McNeese State University: “Cold, Flu, Pneumonia?”

University of Missouri: “Is It a Cold, the Flu, or Pneumonia?”

Western State Colorado University: “Is It a Cold, Flu, Or Pneumonia?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Pneumonia.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Pneumonia.”

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