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How Effective are Antibiotics for Pneumonia?

By Laura Evans
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Doctors prescribe antibiotics for pneumonia when the pneumonia is caused by bacteria or by mycoplasma, an extremely small parasite. Taking antibiotics for pneumonia that has been caused by viruses, fungi, or other factors will not cure pneumonia. In fact, taking antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a situation that concerns health officials world-wide.

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe and can occur in either one or both lungs. Viruses cause about one-third to one-half of all diagnosed cases of pneumonia. This means that at least one- third to one-half of pneumonia cases should not be treated with antibiotics. People who get viral pneumonia can also develop bacterial pneumonia, which should be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing, chills, and headaches. In fact, pneumonia symptoms may resemble those of the flu. Patients should contact their physicians if they have a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees C) as well as chills. For people with weakened immune systems, including very young children and elderly people, pneumonia can be especially dangerous.

A physician has several methods for diagnosing pneumonia. These include a physical exam, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and mucous tests. As part of the physical exam, the doctor will listen to the lungs to see if there are audible sounds called rales or rhonchi that indicate fluids in the lungs. Chest x-rays can confirm that a patient has pneumonia and also indicate where the infection is located. Doctors try to determine the cause of pneumonia by running blood or mucous tests.

Pneumonia can be caused by various bacteria, including Streptococcus pneumoniae. Regardless of the type, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics for pneumonia caused by bacteria. Doctors also prescribe antibiotics for pneumonia caused by a mycoplasma. Fungal pneumonia is treated with anti-fungal medications while viral pneumonia is typically treated with bed rest and fluids, although some viral pneumonia cases can be treated with anti-viral drugs.

Patients should not take antibiotics for anything other than bacterial or mycoplasma pneumonia. Not only will the pneumonia not be treated properly, taking antibiotics unnecessarily can lead to developing antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not respond to antibiotics and, as a result, are much more difficult to kill.

Doctors prescribe a given number of antibiotic pills at a given strength for good reasons. People who stop taking prescribed antibiotics as soon as they start to feel better are not only putting their health at risk, they may also be contributing to developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Patients can relapse more easily if they do not finish their prescriptions while not finishing the prescription makes it more likely that bacteria that do not respond to current drugs will start to develop.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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