Pneumonia symptoms can vary greatly, depending on any underlying conditions you may have and the type of organism causing the infection. Pneumonia often mimics the flu, beginning with a cough and a fever, so you may not realize you have a more serious condition.
Common signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Shaking chills
- Chest pain that fluctuates with breathing (pleurisy)
- Muscle pain
Ironically, people in high-risk groups such as older adults and people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems may have fewer or milder symptoms than less vulnerable people do. And instead of having the high fever that often characterizes pneumonia, older adults may even have a lower than normal temperature.
When to see a doctor
Because pneumonia can be life-threatening, see your doctor as soon as possible if you have a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained fever—especially a lasting fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher with chills and sweating—or if you suddenly feel worse after a cold or the flu.
Be especially prompt about seeking medical care if you're an older adult or you smoke, drink excessively, have an injury, are undergoing chemotherapy or take medication such as prednisone that suppresses your immune system. For some older adults and people with heart failure or lung ailments, pneumonia can quickly become a life-threatening condition.