Symptoms of Pneumonia in Children

Pneumonia is responsible for 15% of infant deaths. Although many cases are punctual some suffer from it chronically due to respiratory infections. What are its symptoms? How is it treated? Learn more in this article!
Symptoms of Pneumonia in Children
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Pneumonia in children is a common disease that occurs mainly in children under 5 years of age. In fact, according to data from the World Health Organization, this disease is responsible for 15% of child deaths. Also, according to estimates, 14% of children suffering from the disease require hospitalization.

The best way to avoid the disease is through prevention. Studies have determined that vaccination against Haemophilus influenzae type B significantly reduces pneumonia in children. Likewise, vaccination against Streptococcus pneumoniae has proven to be effective in the most severe cases.

Furthermore, other important measures to prevent pneumonia in children are breastfeeding, avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke, keeping the house ventilated, frequent hand washing, and delaying entry to daycare if the child has a history of respiratory disease.

What is pneumonia?

In general terms, pneumonia refers to an infection of the lungs. It occurs in the deep part of the lungs, so it’s also known as a lower respiratory tract infection. Most cases are the result of viruses, although bacteria and other pathogens can also cause pneumonia.

Most commonly, pneumonia in children occurs after a cold. The lungs have air sacs called alveoli which fill with pus and other fluids when infection occurs. As a result, oxygen’s unable to reach the bloodstream.

There are several types of pneumonia, among which the following stand out:

  • Viral pneumonia. This is the result of a virus, usually respiratory syncytial, influenza, parainfluenza, or adenovirus. This is the most common form of the disease and predisposes the child to suffer bacterial pneumonia.
  • Bacterial pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is the result of a bacterial infection, usually by Streptococcus pneumoniae. However, other bacteria that cause it are group A or B streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia. It’s caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It’s also known as atypical pneumonia, as it’s mild and more frequent in children older than 5 years.
A child with pneumonia in the hospital.
Pneumonia is a disease of the lower respiratory tract. It can be caused by viruses or bacteria.

Symptoms of pneumonia in children

The symptoms of pneumonia in children may vary in each case, depending on the severity of the infection, as well as the child’s age and general health condition. Just the same, the most common sign is rapid breathing, which appears in almost all cases.

Other common symptoms include the following:

  • High fever and chills.
  • Coughing.
  • Breathing with wheezing or whining sounds.
  • Shortness of breath. This may include flaring of the nostrils, movement of the muscles in the rib area, and breathing through the abdomen.
  • Nasal congestion and chest pain.
  • Abdominal pain. This arises from the child straining to cough and difficulty breathing.
  • Vomiting. This is due to coughing or the child swallowing mucus.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Bluish color of the lips and fingernails. This only appears in extreme cases.

In general, the symptoms of viral pneumonia evolve more slowly than those of bacterial pneumonia. If the disease is in the lower part of the lungs, there may be fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting, without respiratory symptoms.

A toddler with a fever.
The clinical manifestations of pneumonia may vary in each case, depending on its cause. In general, it produces fever, cough, breathing sounds, and congestion.

You may be interested in: Silent Pneumonia and Coronavirus

Causes and diagnosis

In conclusion, pneumonia in children is often the result of viruses. However, it can also be the result of bacteria or other pathogens such as fungi and parasites. Most commonly, it starts with a common cold, i.e., an upper respiratory tract infection.

In many cases, pathogens present in the nose or throat are inhaled and go deep into the lungs, resulting in pneumonia.

It can also be acquired by contact with a person who’s already ill. This is because that person’s cough or sneeze produces droplets that carry the virus. So, if the child comes into contact with these droplets, they may develop the disease.

Pneumonia in children can also spread through the blood and this occurs especially during or after childbirth. It’s relatively normal for a child to have this disease during infancy and there’s only reason for concern if it occurs frequently.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Alpízar Caballero, L. B., & Medina Herrera, E. E. (1998). Efectos nocivos de la fiebre en el niño y medidas terapéuticas. Revista Cubana de Pediatría, 70(4), 177-184.
  • Cruz Robaina, J. C., Dorta Correa, Y., Riesgo Mayea, L., López Labrador-Piloto, O., & González Díaz, J. (2012). Caracterización clínico epidemiológica de la neumonía en niños hospitalizados. Revista de Ciencias Médicas de Pinar del Río, 16(1), 158-168.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.