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Viral Pneumonia - Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment

Published on Mar 19, 2022 and last reviewed on Mar 24, 2022   -  6 min read


After the large surge of COVID-19, pneumonia is now very common. Read this article to know more about viral pneumonia, its causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment in detail.


What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a condition in which the lung tissues become inflamed due to an infection with a pathogen. The pathogen can be viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi.

What Is Viral Pneumonia?

As the name suggests, the virus is the causative organism in viral pneumonia. In most cases, these viruses are those responsible for the common cold and flu. Although they usually come back to normal in many individuals, they can also be fatal in some.

After entering the body, they invade the lungs, causing inflammation and swelling, thereby leading to blockage of oxygen supply from the lungs.

What Causes Viral Pneumonia?

One of the below viruses is responsible for causing viral pneumonia:

Transmission of the virus occurs in several ways in the community and hospital settings. The most common virus spread methods are by sneezing, coughing, or touching the surfaces contaminated by the infected person.

What Increases the Risk of Developing Viral Pneumonia?

Since it is contagious and spreads via airborne droplets, viral pneumonia can occur in anyone. However, few people share an increased risk of contracting the disease and are grouped under the high-risk category. The following are the group of people who have a higher risk of getting viral pneumonia:

Weakened Immune System:

Other Factors:

How Is Viral Pneumonia Manifested?

As a result of inflammation, oxygen flow and exchange of gas in the lungs are blocked. These are responsible for the manifestations of viral pneumonia. While viral pneumonia is treatable in many, it can rapidly progress into a severe and fatal condition, especially in those with a weakened immune system.

Viral pneumonia exhibits flu-like symptoms in the initial stages, and also the symptoms are more or less similar to bacterial pneumonia.

Following are the common symptoms of viral pneumonia:

How Can We Diagnose Viral Pneumonia?

Diagnosis of viral pneumonia involves a series of steps.

1.Personal History:

Initially, the patient is questioned for personal history of exposure like,

2. Physical Examination:

Next, the patient is examined physically for the following signs:

When an abnormality is detected in physical examination, depending on the severity, the following diagnostic tests may be taken:

3. Complete Blood Count:

It helps in diagnosis by indicating the presence of any inflammation.

4.Nasal Swab Test:

It is done to check for the presence of viruses.

5. Blood Culture:

It helps identify the pathogen causing the disease and confirm the presence of infection.

6. Sputum Test:

The infection source is checked by taking the sputum after a cough.

7. Pulse Oximeter:

As pneumonia affects the oxygen exchange, it reduces the oxygen in your blood, which can be detected using pulse oximeters.

8. Chest X-Ray:

It gives an image of the lungs to look for the presence of any infection.

9. Arterial Blood Gas Test:

Like pulse oximeters, it determines the oxygen present in the arterial blood, but it is more accurate.

10. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan:

Image of the lungs is obtained with a CT scan to diagnose the presence of any lung abscesses or any other complications associated.

11. Bronchoscopy:

Although not usually required for diagnosing viral pneumonia, it gives a direct view of the airways to look for any blockage. It is done in cases when the infection does not respond to the treatment.

How Is Viral Pneumonia Treated?

Viral pneumonia can be treated at home or in a hospital. Treatment at the hospital involves the following:

When Is Hospitalization Required in Viral Pneumonia?

Patients who share an increased risk or are prone to develop serious complications are hospitalized. When there is reduced food and fluid intake or reduced oxygen levels in the blood, hospitalization is recommended.

The following group of people might require hospitalization:

How Can We Treat Viral Pneumonia Patients at Home?

If the treating doctor advises the patient to continue the treatment at home after analyzing the health condition and symptom severity, at-home treatment can be done. Do consult your doctor before taking any medicines. Strictly follow the advice of your doctor.

The following are the at-home treatment methods for viral pneumonia:

  1. For fever, antipyretic drugs like Paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen or Naproxen may be given.

  2. Avoid taking cough suppressant syrups. Coughing up helps remove the sputum accumulated.

  3. Get plenty of rest.

  4. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids because intake of fluids can help eliminate the sputum by loosening the mucus.

Note: Do not give Aspirin to children as it can produce severe complications like Reye’s syndrome.

What Are the Complications of Viral Pneumonia?

How Can We Prevent Viral Pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia can be prevented in the following ways:

  1. Wear a mask at all times, especially when you have to come in contact with people having similar symptoms.

  2. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water.

  3. Do maintain social distancing.

  4. Follow the respiratory etiquette guidelines by sneezing or coughing into your elbow or tissue. Dispose of the tissues safely. Do this to prevent yourself from spreading the disease.

  5. When you have flu-like symptoms, distance yourself from the high-risk group.

  6. Get your seasonal flu shot.

How Is Viral Pneumonia Different From Bacterial Pneumonia?

The symptoms which help in distinguishing viral pneumonia from bacterial pneumonia are:

Also, in terms of treatment, there is a vast difference. Viral pneumonia does not usually require treatment except symptomatic care, while bacterial pneumonia requires antibiotic therapy.

In some cases, antibiotic therapy may be needed when secondary bacterial pneumonia occurs after viral pneumonia.


Viral pneumonia does not always produce severe complications, and it can be treated by symptomatic care. Following proper respiratory hygiene can help prevent viral pneumonia. When you experience flu-like symptoms, reach out to your doctor at the earliest, and get it treated to avoid further complications.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Long Does It Take To Cure Viral Pneumonia Completely?

Viral pneumonia usually takes a few days to a few weeks to get completely cured.


How Long Is a Person With Viral Pneumonia Contagious?

Viral pneumonia can be contagious for 24 hours to two weeks after starting antibiotics. However, in some, viral pneumonia can spread through cough after two weeks.


Is Viral Pneumonia More Severe Than Bacterial Pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is known to be less severe than bacterial pneumonia. However, COVID-19 pneumonia can be more severe in some cases.


How Does a Person Get Viral Pneumonia?

A person who comes in direct contact with the virus through droplets or when a person touches his mouth or nose after touching an infected keyboard or doorknob can be affected by viral pneumonia.


What Are the Treatments for Viral Pneumonia?

There is no single treatment method to cure viral pneumonia. However, specific symptomatic treatments can be provided, like supplemental oxygen supply to the affected individuals if needed. In addition, in some cases, antiviral drugs like, Zanamivir can help.


What Is the Difference Between Viral Pneumonia and Bacterial Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a condition when one or both the lungs are affected by an infection. If an infection to the lung is caused due to a viral infection, then the pneumonia is called viral pneumonia. If the lung infection is caused due to bacterial infection, then the pneumonia is called bacterial pneumonia.


What Are the Stages of Viral Pneumonia?

There are four stages of untreated pneumonia such as,

- Congestion.

- Red hepatization.

- Gray hepatization.

- Resolution.


How Do Doctors Differentiate Viral Pneumonia From Bacterial Pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia often presents with congestion and cough with or without fever, and when a doctor listens to your breathing with their stethoscope, viral pneumonia is first suspected. A confirmed diagnosis can be made with a culture test.


How Long Does It Take for a Toddler to Recover From Viral Pneumonia Completely?

In toddlers, with appropriate treatments, viral pneumonia usually gets cured within four to six weeks.

Last reviewed at:
24 Mar 2022  -  6 min read




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Can bronchoscopy help in lung collapse caused due to pneumonia?

Query: Hi doctor, My uncle has been admitted to a hospital, after a week of high-grade fever along with a cough, which gradually increased. They took a chest x-ray and blood tests and confirmed that it is pneumonia, and my uncle was on O2. He was also suspected for swine flu, and we waited for the reports,...  Read Full »

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