Double pneumonia is a lung infection that affects both of your lungs. The infection inflames the air sacs in your lungs, or the alveoli, which fill with fluid or pus. This inflammation makes it hard to breathe.

The most common causes of pneumonia are bacteria and viruses. Infection from fungi or parasites can also cause pneumonia.

Pneumonia can also be categorized by the number of segments of the lobes in your lungs that are infected. If more segments are infected, whether in one lung or both lungs, the disease is likely to be more serious.

You can catch pneumonia by coming into contact with infectious viruses or breathing in infectious air droplets. If it’s not treated, any pneumonia can be life-threatening.

The symptoms of double pneumonia are the same as for pneumonia in one lung.

The symptoms are not necessarily more severe because both lungs are infected. Double pneumonia does not mean double seriousness. You can have a mild infection in both lungs, or a serious infection in both lungs.

Symptoms can vary, depending on your age, general health, and the type of infection you have.

Pneumonia symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • congestion
  • coughing that may produce phlegm
  • fever, sweating, and chills
  • rapid heart and breathing rate
  • fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea

For adults older than 65, symptoms may also include:

  • confusion
  • a change in thinking ability
  • a lower-than-normal body temperature

If you have trouble breathing or severe chest pain, see a doctor as soon as possible, or go to the emergency room.

Pneumonia symptoms often resemble those of the flu or a cold. But if your symptoms are severe or last for more than three days, see a doctor. Untreated pneumonia can do permanent damage to your lungs.

According to Dr. Wayne Tsuang, a lung specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, whether you get pneumonia in one lung or both lungs is “largely due to chance.” This is the case whether the infection is viral, bacterial, or fungal.

In general, certain populations have a higher risk of getting pneumonia:

  • infants and toddlers
  • people over 65
  • people with weakened immune systems from disease or some medications
  • people with diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or heart failure
  • people who smoke or abuse drugs or alcohol

Pneumonia in two lungs is treated the same way as it is in one lung.

The treatment plan will depend on the cause and severity of the infection, and your age and general health. Your treatment may include over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain and fever. These could include:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Your doctor may also suggest a cough medicine to help manage your cough so that you can rest. According to Mayo Clinic, coughing helps move fluid from your lungs, so you don't want to eliminate it entirely.

You can help yourself have a smoother recovery. Take your prescribed medication, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and don’t push yourself to get back to your regular activities too soon.

Specific treatments for different types of pneumonia include:

Viral pneumonia

Viral pneumonia can be treated with anti-viral drugs and medication aimed at easing your symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses.

Most cases can be treated at home. But people with a chronic health condition or older adults may need hospitalization.

Bacterial pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. The particular antibiotic will depend on the type of bacteria causing the pneumonia.

Most cases can be treated at home, but some will require a hospital stay. Young children, older adults, and people with suppressed immune systems may need to be hospitalized and treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. They may also need assistance with breathing.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is a type of bacterial pneumonia. It’s generally mild and often affects both lungs. Since it’s bacterial, it’s treated with antibiotics.

Learn more: Pneumonia in an immunocompromised person »

With proper treatment, most otherwise healthy people can expect to get better within 3 to 5 days. If you have no underlying health conditions, you’ll most likely be able to resume your normal activities in a week or so. Fatigue and mild symptoms, such as a cough, may last longer.

If you were hospitalized, your recovery time will be longer.

Pneumonia is a serious disease and can be life-threatening, whether one lung or both are infected. Double pneumonia can be fatal if it isn’t treated. About 50,000 people die of pneumonia each year in the United States. Pneumonia is the eighth leading cause of death and is the leading infectious cause of death in the United States.

In general, the more segments of your lungs that are infected, the more severe the disease. This is the case even if all the infected segments are in one lung.

There is a possibility of complications, especially if you have an underlying illness or other high-risk factors. According to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), there may be long-term consequences of pneumonia, even for people who fully recover. Children who recover from pneumonia have an increased risk for chronic lung diseases. Also, adults who recover may have heart disease or weakened ability to think, and may be less able to be physically active.

Q:

Is double pneumonia contagious?

A:

Pneumonia, whether affecting one lung or both lungs, can be contagious. If droplets containing the organisms causing pneumonia are coughed out, they can contaminate the mouth or respiratory tract of another person. Some organisms causing pneumonia are highly contagious. Most are weakly contagious, meaning that they don’t spread easily to another person.

Adithya Cattamanchi, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.