Signs of pneumonia in toddlers (2023)

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that generally affects young children and older adults. Cough and fever are the most common signs of the infection, but your toddler can experience other symptoms like muscle pain and vomiting, too. If left untreated – especially in young children – pneumonia can be very dangerous. Talk with your provider if you suspect your toddler has pneumonia. Depending on the type of pneumonia they have, treatments like antibiotics can help.

What causes pneumonia in toddlers?

Pneumonia is a general term for infection of the lungs. It can be caused by many different types of bacteria and viruses. (Sometimes, pneumonia can also be caused by fungi.)

Young children may get pneumonia from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), for example, and infants may get it from group B streptococcus (GBS) acquired at birth, during delivery. An older child might develop pneumonia as the result of other bacterial or viral infections.

Bacterial pneumonia

Children with bacterial pneumonia usually have sudden symptoms – high fever, rapid breathing, and coughing. They don't want to eat and seem very ill.

They may have trouble breathing (look for flaring nostrils or chest sinking in as they breathe), a faster pulse, and bluish lips or nails. They may seem weak, vomit, or have diarrhea. Less common symptoms include abdominal pain and a stiff neck.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is the usual cause, but other bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus or Mycoplasma pneumoniae) can cause pneumonia, too.

Viral pneumonia

This type of pneumonia typically starts out like a cold, but symptoms slowly and steadily get worse. Children may have a fever of 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or more, with a worsening cough, wheezing, and rapid breathing. Weakness, vomiting, or diarrhea can also be symptoms.

Viral pneumonia is usually less severe than bacterial and can't progress into it – but it can make kids more susceptible to getting a secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Viruses that can cause pneumonia include:

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Adenovirus
  • The flu virus
  • Human metapneumovirus (HMPV)
  • Rhinovirus

Pneumonia symptoms in toddlers

Pneumonia can strike anytime, but it usually shows up in winter and spring, often after a cold or other upper respiratory infection like RSV.


| page continues below

Fast breathing and fever are two of pneumonia's main symptoms.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Trouble breathing or f labored breathing
  • Bluish or gray color of skin, lips, or fingernails

Because your child may not be able to tell you what's bothering them, also look for signs such as paleness, loss of energy, and more crying than usual.

Is pneumonia dangerous for toddlers?

It can be. Some pneumonia cases are mild, but some can be severe.

Call your doctor right away if you suspect your child has pneumonia, especially if they have a fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit (over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in babies under 6 months old), or if they have fast or labored breathing.

When to call 911

Call 911 if your child is taking more than 60 breaths per minute, or turning blue around the mouth.

Pneumonia risk factors

Certain health conditions and lifestyle factors can increase your child's risk of getting pneumonia, including:

  • Being a preemie
  • Having asthma
  • Having a chronic illness, cardiac condition, or compromised immune system
  • Being around secondhand smoke

How is pneumonia diagnosed in toddlers?

Your provider will examine your toddler, watching how your child breathes. And they'll listen to their lungs with a stethoscope. During this exam, your doctor listens for diminished breathing sounds or other abnormal noises. Because some of the air sacs in the lungs are filled with fluid in a child with pneumonia, they'll be breathing rapidly to take in more oxygen.

If the doctor thinks your toddler has pneumonia, they may:

  • Order a chest X-ray
  • Request blood work
  • Swab your child's nose to check for viruses such as RSV or influenza
  • Use a pulse oximeter to make sure your child is getting enough oxygen. An oximeter is a simple device that clips on to a finger to measure oxygen saturation.

What's the treatment for pneumonia in toddlers?

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of infection your child has.

For bacterial pneumonia:

  • Doctors prescribe antibiotics.
  • If your child needs to be treated for bacterial pneumonia in the hospital, they may be given fluids and antibiotics through an IV. The nurses may suction their nose regularly and keep an eye on their blood oxygen levels with an oximeter. Your toddler may also be fitted with a nasal oxygen tube or mask to make breathing a little easier.

For viral pneumonia:

  • The best treatment for viral pneumonia is usually rest and fluids because viral pneumonia doesn't respond to antibiotics.

How to treat pneumonia at home

While it's best to always talk to your provider if you suspect your child has pneumonia, there are steps you can take to help your child recover:

  • Keep your child hydrated. Getting enough fluids is vital to fight the dehydration from rapid breathing and fever that's often a side effect of pneumonia.
  • Run a cool mist humidifier to help clear your child's lungs and make it easier to breathe.
  • Provide pain relief. If they're feverish and uncomfortable, you may want to give them acetaminophen or (if they're 6 months or older) ibuprofen. (Cough suppressants aren't recommended under the age of 5. Also, coughing helps to clear the secretions of mucus caused by the infection.)

How long does it take a toddler to recover from pneumonia?

Most uncomplicated pneumonia gets better within a week, although the cough can last for weeks. It's safe for your child to go outside while they're recovering.

If your child was given an antibiotic for bacterial pneumonia, give it to them for the as many days as recommended – even if they start getting better within a few days. The infection could return if the full course of antibiotic treatment isn't completed.

Your little one can return to school once they've been fever free for 24 hours without any fever-reducing medication. If they have bacterial pneumonia, they'll also need to have been taking their antibiotics for 24 hours or longer.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting pneumonia?

You can't completely prevent your child from getting pneumonia, just like you can't always avoid other viruses and infections. But there are some things you can do to lower their risk. To boost your child's chances of staying healthy:

Keep vaccinations up to date. The Hib, DTaP, MMR, flu, COVID, chicken pox, and pneumococcal vaccines can all help prevent pneumonia. Ask the doctor for advice if your child has missed any shots. See our complete article on recommended vaccinations for more information.

Practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands and your child's hands often to prevent the spread of germs. Don't let your child share cups or utensils. Regularly wash all the places germy body parts might touch, like the phone, toys, doorknobs, and the refrigerator door handle. Stay home if you're sick to minimize spread of infection.

Make yours a smoke-free home. If you or your partner smokes, do it outside and ask guests to do the same. Better yet, ask your doctor about finding a program to help you quit. Studies have shown that children who live around cigarette smoke, even for short periods, get sick more often and are more susceptible to pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, asthma, and ear infections.


How do you rule out pneumonia in toddlers? ›

Doctors usually make a pneumonia diagnosis after asking about your child's symptoms and examining your child. The doctor also might order a chest X-ray, blood tests, tests for viruses in nasal secretions or bacterial cultures of mucus produced by coughing in some cases.

How do I know if my toddler is getting pneumonia? ›

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms usually start out like the flu. They slowly get worse over a few days. Pneumonia caused by bacteria can come on suddenly with a high fever, fast breathing and coughing. Both types of pneumonia can cause the child's cough to last for weeks after the fever has stopped.

When should I suspect my child for pneumonia? ›

You should contact your child's pediatrician if the following symptoms appear: Cough with fever for more than 3-5 days if older than 1 year. Lack of appetite. Lethargy.

What are two 2 clinical signs that help you identify children with severe pneumonia? ›

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:
  • Cough, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus.
  • Fever, sweating and shaking chills.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough.
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue.

What are the first warning signs of pneumonia? ›

Symptoms of pneumonia
  • a cough – which may be dry, or produce thick yellow, green, brown or blood-stained mucus (phlegm)
  • difficulty breathing – your breathing may be rapid and shallow, and you may feel breathless, even when resting.
  • rapid heartbeat.
  • fever.
  • feeling generally unwell.
  • sweating and shivering.
  • loss of appetite.
Dec 7, 2022

What are the 4 stages of pneumonia in toddlers? ›

Pneumonia has four distinct stages of infection: Congestion, red hepatization, gray hepatization, and resolution. Keep in mind that everyone who gets pneumonia will have a different experience. You may not follow the same timeline or have the same symptoms in each stage.

What is silent pneumonia in kids? ›

Walking pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by the mycoplasma bacteria. This form of pneumonia is usually mild and feels like a chest cold, but it can get worse. The symptoms of cough, headache, and a low fever start slowly.

What does pneumonia sound like in toddlers? ›

Walking pneumonia is usually diagnosed through a physical examination. The doctor will check your child's breathing and listen for a hallmark crackling sound that often indicates walking pneumonia. If needed, a chest X-ray or tests of mucus samples from the throat or nose might be done to confirm the diagnosis.

What triggers pneumonia in toddlers? ›

Pneumonia is caused by several infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most common are the following. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) is the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.

What are the stages of pneumonia in children? ›

These four stages of pneumonia are congestion, red hepatization, gray hepatization, and resolution, respectively.

What does a pneumonia cough sound like? ›

It might sound deeper or louder than other coughs and may or may not produce either green, yellow, or bloody mucus.

How do you rule out pneumonia? ›

A chest X-ray is often used to diagnose pneumonia. Blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) see whether your immune system is fighting an infection. Pulse oximetry measures how much oxygen is in your blood. Pneumonia can keep your lungs from getting enough oxygen into your blood.

How do you assess a child for pneumonia? ›

Laboratory evaluation in children suspected of having pneumonia should ideally start with non-invasive, rapid bedside testing including nasopharyngeal swab assays for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and human metapneumovirus when available and appropriate.

What is the best predictor of pneumonia in children? ›

A case series study of 103 children by Al-Dabbagh et al. demonstrated a body temperature of ≥38 °C as the best single predictor of pneumonia; with nasal flaring, tachypnea, chest retraction and crackles yielding the best sensitivity estimates [15]. Lynch et al.

What are the immediate priorities of children with pneumonia? ›

Supportive and symptomatic management is key and includes supplemental oxygen for hypoxia, antipyretics for fever, and fluids for dehydration. This is especially important for non-infectious pneumonitis and viral pneumonia for which antibiotics are not indicated.

What investigation can easily confirm pneumonia in children? ›

  • Approach Considerations. Diagnostic tests for pneumonia may include the following: ...
  • Complete Blood Cell Count. ...
  • Sputum Gram Stain and Culture. ...
  • Blood Culture. ...
  • Serology. ...
  • Inflammatory Markers. ...
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction. ...
  • Skin Testing.
Mar 10, 2023

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated: 28/11/2023

Views: 6286

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.