Can a cold or the flu turn into pneumonia?

Pharmacist giving medication to woman holding a child.

Every year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with pneumonia. Although there are many causes, about 33% of people get pneumonia from a cold or flu virus. Catching pneumonia at an early stage is key to a quick recovery. Know the symptoms, treatment and prevention. Because it’s true. A cold or the flu can turn into pneumonia.


Pneumonia is described as inflammation of the lungs. Often bacteria from a cold or the flu will settle in the lungs. This creates an infection and produces pneumonia.

Here are nine signs:

  1. extreme fatigue
  2. loss of appetite
  3. headaches and confusion
  4. spitting up thick mucus or blood when coughing
  5. breathing difficulty
  6. chills and high fever
  7. sweating and clammy skin
  8. painful breathing or coughing
  9. nausea and diarrhea

Many of these symptoms are like those experienced with a cold or the flu. However, a good rule of thumb is to consult your doctor if:

  • symptoms persist for more than a week
  • symptoms become more intense
  • breathing and coughing become painful


Most people diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia have mild symptoms. If this is the case, it easily can be treated with antibiotics designed to kill the infection. But if pneumonia isn’t caught at an early stage, it can become life-threatening. Pneumonia especially can be dangerous for children, seniors or adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. People with chronic pneumonia must receive specialized care.


Consider three ways to reduce the risk of pneumonia:

  1. vaccine – A flu shot can protect people from the flu and common bacterial pneumonia.
  2. behavior – Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use a tissue to capture germs, so others aren’t exposed. Dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.
  3. avoid smoking – People who smoke are at increased risk for developing pneumonia. Medical professionals say that tobacco can scar the lungs and damage tissues that fight germs.

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