Pneumonia can be a complication of COVID-19. Post-COVID pneumonia treatments may include medications, breathing supports, and fluid drainage. Treatment will depend on symptom severity.

COVID-19 pneumonia can cause the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid, causing shortness of breath, coughing, and breathing difficulties.

Depending on the severity of the illness and type of pneumonia, treatments may include antivirals or antibiotics, draining fluid buildup around the lungs, or oxygen therapy.

This article looks at the different treatment options and recovery for post-COVID pneumonia.

Learn more about the relationship between COVID-19 and pneumonia here.

A woman with post-COVID pneumonia wearing a face covering.Share on Pinterest
Haris Mulaosmanovic/EyeEm/Getty Images

The goal of pneumonia treatment is to cure the lung infection and prevent any complications.

It’s important that people follow any treatment guidelines a healthcare professional recommends. In severe cases, in-hospital treatment may be required

Below are the main treatment options for post-COVID pneumonia.

Antivirals help prevent viral spread and growth. They include:

Remdesivir (Veklury)

According to 2021 research into severe COVID-19 pneumonia, remdesivir may provide some benefits for people recovering from severe disease. Still, it has not shown a significant positive impact on mortality or clinical outcomes.

Potential side effects and risks of remdesivir may include:

Learn more about remdesivir (Veklury) here.

Treatment may include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia or a co-occurring bacterial infection.

Once a person has completed a course of antibiotics for pneumonia, a doctor will order a chest X-ray to check if the lungs have returned to normal.

Common side effects of antibiotics may include:

Less commonly, antibiotics may cause severe — possibly life threatening — ongoing diarrhea or allergic reaction.

Learn more about the side effects of antibiotics here.

People may require supplemental oxygen or oxygen therapy if the lungs are not working effectively enough to take in as much oxygen as people need. People may wear an oxygen face mask or have tubes into the nose or windpipe to deliver oxygen.

Side effects from supplemental oxygen may include:

  • a dry or bloody nose
  • tiredness
  • headaches in the morning

Oxygen is a fire hazard, so people must avoid smoking or using flammable materials with supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen is usually a safe treatment option.

People with severe pneumonia receiving treatment in a hospital may require intravenous (IV) fluids.

IV fluids are special liquids that a healthcare professional injects into a vein to help prevent dehydration. Side effects or risks of IV fluids may include:

  • damage to blood vessels or nerves
  • blood pooling under the skin
  • bleeding at the IV insertion site

Learn more about IV injections here.

Fluid drainage, or thoracentesis, is a procedure that removes built-up fluid surrounding the lungs.

The pleural space is a small space between the outer lung tissue and the inner chest wall. If excess fluid builds up in the pleural space, the lungs are not able to expand fully, making it more difficult to breathe.

A doctor will insert a needle into the back, between the ribs, to draw out excess fluid.

Potential risks of fluid drainage include:

Fluid drainage may not be suitable for people with certain bleeding disorders.

Learn more about fluid drainage here.

According to 2020 research, corticosteroids may be a treatment option for moderate to severe COVID-19 pneumonia.

Treatment with moderate doses of corticosteroids, such as dexamethasone, may be beneficial in people requiring supplemental oxygen or ventilatory support.

Healthcare professionals may recommend treatment with corticosteroids for milder cases of COVID-19 pneumonia in the early stages.

Learn more about corticosteroids here.

Immunomodulators modify or influence the immune system, which can help the body respond to an illness or disease.

A doctor may prescribe:

  • Tocilizumab or sarilumab: These reduce inflammation by inhibiting the pathway of a cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6). Researchers hypothesize that modulating IL-6 levels can reduce the duration and severity of COVID-19.
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors: JAK inhibitors, such as baricitinib, reduce inflammation by blocking enzymes called Janus kinases. It also theoretically has direct antiviral activity.

Tocilizumab may be beneficial for those who are hospitalized and require:

  • supplemental oxygen
  • high-flow oxygen
  • noninvasive ventilation
  • mechanical ventilation

JAK inhibitors may be beneficial for those who are hospitalized and require:

Mechanical ventilation uses a machine that helps people breathe properly when they are unable to. People may require mechanical ventilation if they have:

Once lung function and breathing improve, people can gradually come off the ventilator.

Although mechanical ventilation can be a lifesaving treatment for severe pneumonia, it is also a risk factor for pneumonia and air leak, which can be life threatening.

ECMO is a machine that pumps blood with oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the body. An ECMO machine carries out lung responsibilities, allowing these organs to rest and recover.

ECMO requires a specialized team to operate the machine and manage side effects. Possible side effects and risks of ECMO may include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • organ failure

Many people may recover from post-COVID pneumonia with no long-term lung damage, according to an article Johns Hopkins Medicine published. In some cases, COVID-19 pneumonia can be severe and may cause breathing problems that improve gradually over several months.

Recovery from pneumonia can vary for each person and may take anywhere from 1–2 weeks to a month or more. People may feel tired for around a month afterward.

Tips to aid recovery include:

  • eating heart-healthy foods to help support the body
  • drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs, as these weaken the immune system
  • avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
  • getting enough quality sleep
  • continually practicing light physical activity
  • talking with a healthcare professional dizzy feelings or shortness of breath occur
  • sitting upright and taking deep breaths throughout the day

Find more COVID-19 information and resources here.

Post-COVID pneumonia is a lung infection that may cause difficulty breathing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

For mild cases, people may be able to treat the condition at home with medications, plenty of rest, and fluids.

For more severe cases, in-hospital treatment may be required. This may include IV fluids, oxygen therapy, or breathing support.