While recovery time can vary from person to person, it may take you as long as six months to feel better after a bout with pneumonia. While there's no special food for pneumonia that can help you get better faster, eating a healthy diet can keep your immune system strong and your energy levels up.
What Is Pneumonia?
In simple terms, pneumonia is an infection that occurs in the lungs. The infection may be bacterial, viral or fungal and cause fluid or pus to build up in your alveoli, which are the tiny sacs in your lungs that deliver oxygen to and from your blood in exchange for carbon dioxide.
Your pneumonia symptoms can vary depending on your health and the underlying cause of your infection, but your symptoms can be similar to what you would expect if you had a cold or flu and may include:
- Coughing, sometimes with phlegm production
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
If you're experiencing these symptoms, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis. Children, adults over age 65 and people with a compromised immune system are especially vulnerable to complications related to pneumonia and should get care right away. Your doctor can perform a physical exam, plus special testing, such as an X-ray or sputum test, to provide you with the right diagnosis.
Your Pneumonia Care Plan
You can't treat pneumonia with at-home care. Your doctor creates your pneumonia care plan based on the underlying cause of your pneumonia (bacterial, viral or fungal), your symptoms and your overall health.
Your pneumonia care plan may include:
- Antibacterial, antiviral or antifungal medication
- Oxygen therapy
- Over-the-counter pain medication
If your infection is severe, you may require hospitalization. Intravenous medication is also sometimes needed for certain types of infections.
The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that you can protect yourself from getting pneumonia by getting your flu and pneumococcal vaccines.
Focus on Fluids
During the early stages of your recovery, eating may be the furthest thing from your mind, but that doesn't make it any less important. If the thought of food turns you off, focus on drinking plenty of fluids. In addition to keeping you hydrated, upping your fluid intake may help loosen the mucus in your lungs, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
You don't have to limit yourself to water, though. Add juice, soup and tea to not only help you stay hydrated, but also add some nutrition in the way of calories, carbohydrates and small amounts of vitamins, minerals and protein. You can even consider making your own nutrient-rich shake to meet both fluid and nutrient needs by blending together fresh fruits and vegetables with milk, nut butter or protein powder and ice.
While your doctor can provide you with the amount of fluid you should be drinking every day during your pneumonia recovery, the Mayo Clinic suggests women aim for 11.5 cups a day and men 15.5 cups. You may need more or less depending on your age and overall health needs.
Diet for Pneumonia
Once you've been following the pneumonia care plan created by your doctor for a few days, including taking your medication, drinking your fluids and getting the rest your body needs, you may begin to feel a little better and start to experience a better appetite.
It's not uncommon to crave unhealthy foods after going a few days eating very little, but this isn't the time for you to indulge in pizza, burgers, fries and milkshakes. Your diet for pneumonia provides your body with the nutrients it needs to keep your immune system strong and energy levels high.
To help you recover from pneumonia, the British Lung Foundation recommends a healthy, balanced and varied diet to support your recovery efforts and keep your lungs healthy.
Healthy food for pneumonia includes:
- Fruits and vegetables for infection-fighting vitamins and minerals
- Whole grains and nutritious carbs such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-grain bread for energy and normal bowel function
- Healthy proteins such as beans, fish and poultry to support muscle strength
- Low-fat dairy foods for protein and calcium
- Healthy fats to provide immune-supporting vitamin A and E
You may find it easier to eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, especially during the early weeks of your recovery, to get the good nutrition your body needs. As you start to feel better, you may begin to eat as you normally would.
Dairy and Respiratory Problems
You may be surprised to see dairy listed on the foods for pneumonia. No doubt, someone has told you to avoid dairy when you're sick with a respiratory condition because it causes your body to produce more mucus. But the British Lung Foundation reports that there's no scientific evidence linking dairy and respiratory problems. The only reason you should avoid dairy is if you have an allergy.
That being said, many people complain that dairy foods make their mucus thick or difficult to manage. You can easily remedy these symptoms by drinking water after you drink milk or eat yogurt.
The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy advises against cutting whole food groups like dairy out of your diet, unless directed to by your doctor, as it may place you at risk of a nutrient deficiency. If you can't drink cow's milk, consider fortified plant milk to get the nutrition your body needs.
Nutrition for Lung Health
If you suffer from a chronic lung condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you may be at greater risk of developing pneumonia. According to a March 2015 review published in the journal Nutrients, what you eat may play a significant role in the development, progression and management of your lung condition.
According to the authors of the review, eating a Mediterranean-style diet may be the most protective against conditions that affect the lungs. This diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy foods and healthy sources of protein such as fish and poultry.
By comparison, the typical Western diet that's filled with highly processed, refined carbs and fatty foods, may impair lung health and make you more vulnerable to lung disease. According to the review, children who eat a more Western-style diet are more at risk of developing asthma, and for adults, these unhealthy eating practices increase the risk of asthma attacks.
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: "Pneumonia"
- British Lung Foundation: "Recovery From Pneumonia"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Pneumonia"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
- British Lung Foundation: "Eating Well with a Lung Condition"
- American Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy: "Milk, Mucus and Cough"
- Nutrients: "Nutrition and Respiratory Health—Feature Review"