Care of a child with a chest infection / pneumonia

Please note, this page is printable by selecting the normal print options on your computer.

This leaflet aims to give Information to parents and carers of children who have a chest infection (Pneumonia) (‘Pneumonia’ means chest infection in Latin).

What is a chest infection?
A Chest Infection is inflammation or infection in one or both of the lungs, (sometimes called pneumonia) in children this can be caused by Viruses or Bacteria. Viruses are the most common
cause of a chest infection in children. Often this develops after an infection in the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). This causes fluid to collect in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. Chest
infections can be mild and will resolve on their own. However in more serious cases children may need to be treated in hospital.

What are the signs and symptoms of a chest infection (pneumonia?)
The signs and symptoms depend on what caused the infection and the age of the child. A bacterial chest infection usually begins more quickly than if its viral.

Your child may have one of the following:
• Generally Unwell
• High Temperature / fever
• Fast and/or difficulty in breathing cough
• Weakness
• Vomiting
• Tummy aches or pains
• Chest pain especially when coughing
• Feeling tired
• Reduced appetite

What treatments are available?
Chest infections are treated with antibiotics. Most of the time oral antibiotics will be enough but if your child is very unwell, has complications or cannot tolerate oral medication, they might require antibiotics given through a vein. The doctor will determine if your child has a chest infection by asking you questions and examining your child. The doctor will listen to your child’s chest
Using a stethoscope, they are listening for any crackling or rattling sounds. If your child is suspected of having a chest infection, the doctor may want to do some blood tests to help find the likely
cause (i.e. bacteria or virus).

A chest x-ray maybe taken to confirm the diagnosis and the extent of the infection.

Your child may require physiotherapy to help remove secretions from their chest or to help produce a cough. Sometimes children may require oxygen therapy to help them breath more easily
Children who are unable to maintain their fluid intake due to breathlessness, fatigue or vomiting may require fluid therapy. A supported sitting position may help to expand the lungs and improve breathing in children who have respiratory distress.

Pain Relief
If your child has any discomfort or pain they will be given pain relief medicine such as paracetamol and Ibuprofen, this may also be given for high temperatures.

What can I expect as a parent?
And what can I do to help.
If your child has a chest infection you can help them by doing the following:

• Ensure they get plenty of rest • Offer small amounts of fluid often, to avoid dehydration
• Get them to sleep propped up on pillows if over the age of one year, which may be more comfortable
• Offer paracetamol and ibuprofen for fever and discomfort
• Do not give cough medicines
• Do not smoke around your child, and avoid environments where adults may be smoking.

Sometimes children can refuse to eat, this can be concerning for parents but your child will eat again once they feel better, it is more important to try and encourage your child to drink small amounts of fluids little and often. The cough can linger for a couple of weeks. It is very important to continue the whole course of antibiotics even if your child seems remarkably better.

We hope that this information has helped to answer some of the questions you may have had regarding your child’s illness.

Further Information
Ward 5
Telephone number 01908 996377

Paediatric community nurses
Telephone number 01908 996521

Paediatric assessment unit
Telephone number 01908 996367

BTS Guidelines for the Management of community Acquired Pneumonia in children: updated in 2011.

NICE Guidance on community acquired pneumonia in children 2019.