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double pneumonia

What's the difference between double pneumonia and pneumonia?

If pneumonia can be life-threatening, is having double pneumonia twice as serious? It's not necessarily true that you have less chance of recovery with double pneumonia - but there are a few distinct differences.

Pneumonia and double pneumonia

In the UK, more people die from pneumonia than anywhere else in Europe1. It's vital that we know when to see a doctor and how to distinguish between this serious lung infection and a run of the mill chest infection.

Dr Margarita Kitova-John is a GP and founder of The Lantern Clinic, which specialises in gut health and women's health. She sums up what happens during pneumonia: "The infection affects the small air sacs that make up the lung tissue, which fill with fluid or pus. This causes the lung to be unable to properly expand, labouring the breathing."

Pneumonia is an infection in one of your lungs - double pneumonia simply means that the infection is in both your lungs. This may sound more serious - and it can be - but the severity of this illness really depends on how many segments of your lungs are infected. For example, it could be that one person has more infected segments in one lung than someone else does across both of their lungs.

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What are the symptoms of single lung and double pneumonia?

The symptoms of pneumonia are the same, no matter whether you have double pneumonia or not. You should see your doctor if you experience the following.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

Having double pneumonia doesn't necessarily mean your symptoms will be twice as bad as pneumonia in one lung. However, for many people they are more severe. Chest pain, for example, may be felt on both sides of the chest rather than one. Likewise, it can be even harder to breathe when both lungs are unable to expand as normal.

How serious is single lung and
double pneumonia?


Double pneumonia and pneumonia of a single lung can both be fatal if the infection is left to spread. In the UK each year, more than 25,000 people die from this illness1.

A case of double pneumonia may be more severe, but it depends on a few factors, including:

  1. How many segments of the lungs are infected - more segments are more likely to be affected in someone with double pneumonia, but it's also possible for a person with one infected lung to have more affected segments.

  2. Whether a person has underlying risk factors - for example, young children and the elderly are more likely to die.


According to Dr Kitova-John, pneumonia often requires hospitalisation, so that the person can receive breathing support. It can also lead to several other health complications, such as:

  • Sepsis - a life-threatening reaction to infection.

  • Pleural effusions - fluid around the lung.

  • Lung abscess - a pus-filled cavity in your lung.

  • Pleurisy - inflammation of the tissue between your ribcage and lung.

  • Organ failure - if the infection spreads to other organs.

Full recovery

It's important to note that most people make a full recovery from single lung and doublepneumonia. Although serious, it's very treatable when it's discovered before the infection has had time to establish itself.

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What causes single lung and double pneumonia?

Double pneumonia and single lung pneumonia have the same causes - having an infection in both lungs rather than one can be down to chance, although common risk factors may play a part.

"The most common cause of pneumonia are bacteria and viruses," says Dr Kitova-John. "The COVID pandemic has led to greater education around respiratory conditions. Sometimes, what starts as a common seasonal upper respiratory infection then becomes complicated with a secondary bacterial infection, causing pneumonia."

How is single lung and double pneumonia diagnosed?

The doctor explains that the presentation of double pneumonia is not clinically more distinct than pneumonia. "The diagnostic process involves an examination by a clinician, followed by a chest X-ray, and if the results are still unclear a chest CT scan. Blood tests are also helpful in determining the seriousness of the condition."

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How to treat pneumonia

Treatment methods are no different for pneumonia and double pneumonia. Instead, your treatment plan will depend on other factors, such as your general health, your age, and the severity of the infection. According to Dr Kitova-John, your doctor should monitor you closely, and tailor a treatment plan that suits the severity of your pneumonia.

At home

Your doctor may advice that you can treat pneumonia at home, and may recommend over-the-counter drugs to help relieve pain and fever, like ibuprofen and aspirin, and cough medicines to help manage your cough.

The cause can also determine your treatment. For bacterial pneumonia, you may be prescribed a course of antibiotics; for viral pneumonia, anti-viral drugs may be helpful but often people get better on their own.

In hospital

Those with a higher risk of becoming ill - like young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems - may be required to stay in hospital. Treatments here may include breathing machines and intravenous (IV) antibiotics - antiobiotics supplied directly to the veins.

If your general health is otherwise good and you receive proper treatment, you may get better in 3-5 days. If you are hospitalised, your recovery time will be longer. But being in hospital with single lung or double pneumonia does not mean that you can't make a full recovery. As scary and as painful as this illness can be, there's always a chance that you can bounce back.

Further reading

  1. Asthma + Lung UK: UK has highest number of pneumonia deaths in Europe..

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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