Pneumonia is a lung infection occurring when viruses, bacteria, or fungi infect and inflame the lungs. Bronchopneumonia is a type of pneumonia that inflames the alveoli (tiny air sacs) inside the lungs.

Someone with bronchopneumonia may have trouble breathing because their airways are constricted. Due to inflammation, their lungs may not get enough air. Symptoms of bronchopneumonia can be mild or severe.

Symptoms of bronchopneumonia may be like other types of pneumonia. This condition often begins with flu-like symptoms that can become more severe over a few days. The symptoms include:

The symptoms may be especially serious in people with weakened immune systems or other illnesses.

Symptoms in children

Children and infants may display symptoms differently. While coughing is the most common symptom in infants, they may also have:

  • a rapid heart rate
  • low blood oxygen levels
  • retractions of chest muscles
  • irritability
  • decreased interest in feeding, eating, or drinking
  • fever
  • congestion
  • difficulty sleeping

See a doctor right away if you have symptoms of pneumonia. It’s impossible to know which type of pneumonia you have without a thorough exam from your doctor.

Many cases of bronchopneumonia are caused by bacteria. Outside the body, the bacteria are contagious and can spread between people in close proximity through sneezes and coughs. A person becomes infected by breathing in the bacteria.

Common bacterial causes of bronchopneumonia include:

The condition is commonly contracted in a hospital setting. People who come to the hospital for treatment of other illnesses often have compromised immune systems. Being sick affects how the body fights off bacteria.

Under these conditions, the body will have difficulty tackling a new infection. Pneumonia that occurs in a hospital setting may also be the result of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing bronchopneumonia. These include:

Age: People who are 65 years of age or older, and children who are 2 years or younger, have a higher risk for developing bronchopneumonia and complications from the condition.

Environmental: People who work in, or often visit, hospital or nursing home facilities have a higher risk for developing bronchopneumonia.

Lifestyle: Smoking, poor nutrition, and a history of heavy alcohol use can increase your risk for bronchopneumonia.

Medical conditions: Having certain medical conditions can increase your risk for developing this type of pneumonia. These include:

If you’re in one of the risk groups, talk to your doctor about prevention and management tips.

Only a doctor can diagnose bronchopneumonia. Your doctor will begin by conducting a physical exam and asking about your symptoms. They’ll use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing and other abnormal breath sounds.

They’ll also listen for places in your chest where it’s harder to hear your breathing. Sometimes, if your lungs are infected or full of fluid, your doctor may notice that your breath sounds aren’t as loud as expected.

They may also send you for tests to rule out other possible causes that could lead to similar symptoms. Other conditions include bronchitis, bronchial asthma, or lobar pneumonia. The tests may include:

Chest X-rayBronchopneumonia will usually show up as multiple patchy areas of infection, usually in both lungs and mostly at the lung bases.
Complete blood count (CBC)A high number of total white blood cells, along with high numbers of certain types of white blood cells, may indicate a bacterial infection.
Blood or sputum culturesThese tests show the type of organism causing the infection.
CT scanA CT scan provides a more detailed look at the lung tissues.
BronchoscopyThis lighted instrument can take a closer look at the breathing tubes and take samples of lung tissue, while checking for infection and other lung conditions.
Pulse oximetryThis is a simple, noninvasive test that measures the percentage of oxygen in the blood stream. The lower the number, the lower your oxygen level.

Treatment options for bronchopneumonia include both at-home treatments and medical treatments by prescription.

At-home care

Viral bronchopneumonia normally doesn’t require medical treatment unless it’s severe. It typically improves on its own in two weeks. Bacterial or fungal causes of bronchopneumonia may require medication.

Medical treatment

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if a bacterium is the cause of your pneumonia. Most people begin to feel better within three to five days after starting antibiotics.

It’s important that you finish your entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning and to make sure it completely clears.

In cases of a viral infection like influenza, your doctor may prescribe antivirals to help reduce the length of your illness and the severity of your symptoms.

Hospital care

You may need to go to the hospital if your infection is severe and you meet any of the following criteria:

  • you’re over age 65
  • you have difficulty breathing
  • you have chest pain
  • you have rapid breathing
  • you have low blood pressure
  • you show signs of confusion
  • you need breathing assistance
  • you have chronic lung disease

Treatment in the hospital may include intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids. If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may receive oxygen therapy to help them return to normal.

Complications from bronchopneumonia can occur depending on the cause of the infection. Common complications can include:

Treatment in infants and children

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your child has a bacterial infection. Home care to ease symptoms is also an important step in managing this condition. Make sure your child gets enough fluids and rest.

Your doctor may suggest Tylenol to reduce fevers. An inhaler or nebulizer may be prescribed to help keep the airways as open as possible. In severe cases, a child may require hospitalization to receive the following:

  • IV fluids
  • medication
  • oxygen
  • respiratory therapy

Always ask your child’s doctor before giving cough medications. These are rarely recommended for children younger than age 6. Read more about hygiene habits for kids.

Simple care measures can reduce your risk of getting sick and developing bronchopneumonia. Read more on the right way to wash your hands.

Vaccinations can also help prevent certain types of pneumonia. Be sure to get your annual flu shot, as the flu can cause pneumonia. Common types of bacterial pneumonia can be prevented by the pneumococcal vaccines. These are available for both adults and children.

Talk to your doctor to determine if these vaccines could benefit you or your family. Read more on vaccine schedules for infants and toddlers.

Most people who have bronchopneumonia recover within a few weeks. How long it takes to recover depends on several factors:

  • your age
  • how much of your lungs have been affected
  • the severity of the pneumonia
  • the type of organism causing the infection
  • your overall health and any underlying conditions
  • any complications you experienced

Not letting your body rest can result in a longer recovery period. People who are at a higher risk for this condition may develop severe, life-threatening complications, such as breathing failure, without treatment.

See a doctor if you think you may have any type of pneumonia. They can make sure you have the correct diagnosis and are receiving the best treatment for your condition.

Read this article in Spanish.