10 Symptoms Of Pneumonia That You May Mistake For Something Else

Are You Aware That These 10 Symptoms May Indicate Pneumonia?

Although pneumonia remains the leading cause of death amongst Malaysian women, and the second principal cause of death among Malaysian men1, many symptoms of pneumonia are often misattributed for symptoms of the common cold or a flu.2

Because flu symptoms often subside within a week3, patients with flu-like symptoms often experience a delay in pneumonia diagnosis.4

But what exactly is pneumonia and how does it affect us?

Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that targets your lungs. Your lungs are made up of small sacs of air called alveoli. When a person is infected with pneumonia, their alveoli are flooded with fluid.5

Streptococcus pneumoniae infection remains the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia worldwide.6 However, it is also possible to get pneumonia as a result of viral infections such as COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) or the flu.7

If you have been persistently experiencing any of the symptoms listed, don't mistake it for the common cold or the flu. It could actually be a more serious condition, and you are recommended to speak to a medical professional as soon as possible to receive the appropriate treatment.

1. Inflammation in the lungs

Symptoms of pneumonia and bronchitis can often be mistaken for one another as they share one common characteristic, that being persistent coughing.8 They differ in that pneumonia causes inflammation in the alveoli, whereas bronchitis causes the inflammation of bronchial tubes in the lungs.9

There are some more distinguishing symptoms of pneumonia that differ it from bronchitis. They include nausea and vomiting, chills and muscle aches, confusion – particularly prominent in elderly cases – and rapid, shallow breathing.9

2. Sore throat

A sore throat is a pain, irritation, or scratchiness in your throat that is particularly sensitive when you swallow.11 Sore throats can be caused by colds, the flu, and other viral infections, including pneumonia.10 Generally, sore throats caused by viruses resolve on their own.11 However, this could be a symptom of mycoplasma or walking pneumonia, which is highly contagious when not detected early.12

3. Dry cough

Another symptom of pneumonia that can easily be misattributed to the common flu is dry coughing.13

Although it can be caused by a variety of viral diseases, it is most commonly associated with viral pneumonia.14 Coughing arises as a result of the fluid in your alveoli.15

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio @ Pexels

4. Headache

Also considered a common symptom of the flu, headaches is also considered as a symptom of viral pneumonia.13

Should you find yourself suffering from chronic or persistent headaches, do consult a doctor to identify any underlying causes and to receive relevant treatments.

5. Bluish colour to lips & fingernails

Classified as cyanosis, which refers to a bluish discolouration of the skin16 ,these are generally indicators of an underlying condition.17 The discolouration is caused by the lack of oxygen being carried through your tissues, which causes the hemoglobin in your blood to darken in colour.17

Pneumonia causes the swelling of the airways and heavy mucus build up in your lungs, which constrains the oxygen intake. As a result, bluish hues can be observed in certain parts of your body.14

6. Cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody sputum

Sputum, a thick mucus also known as phlegm, is produced when your lungs are diseased or damaged. Unlike normal mucus, which serves to protect and keep respiratory tissues moist, phlegm is an excess of mucus produced in cases of infection.18

Green and yellow phlegm are caused by white blood cells and is usually a sign that your body is actively fighting an infection.19 Yellow phlegm can also slowly turn into green, and can be used as an indicator of the severity and length of your potential sickness.19

Sometimes sputum can have visible steaks of blood in it, which comes from somewhere along your body’s respiratory tract.20

Photo credit: Polina Tankilevitch @ Pexels

7. Fever

Fevers are often signs that your body is actively trying to kill the virus or bacteria currently causing an infection. It does so through activating your body's immune system.21

The elevated body temperature triggers certain cellular mechanisms to ensure our immune systems take appropriate action against the offending virus or bacteria.22

8. Heavy or excessive sweating

Also known as hyperhidrosis, this can be a symptom of several medical conditions, including pneumonia.23 Profuse sweating can be a symptom of a fever caused by bacterial pneumonia15.

9. Loss of appetite

Infections such as pneumonia can cause a marked reduction in your desire to eat. Loss of appetite usually recovers once the underlying conditions or infections, usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection, have been treated.24

10. Low energy and extreme tiredness

Heavy mucus accumulation, as well as inflammation and swelling of the lungs, can constrict your lung's airflow and thus make it difficult to even breathe. Because of this, you may experience shortness of breath, laboured breathing and be easily fatigued.14

Photo credit: cottonbro @ Pexels

Early detection & pneumonia prevention

When it comes to treatment, early diagnosis of pneumonia is crucial.25 ​

This is because untreated pneumonia in certain individuals, particularly those vulnerable to the disease, can take up tosix months to recover.

However, to effectively curb the spread of pneumonia, prevention is a preferable solution to cures.Pneumococcal vaccination has been shown to reduce the prevalence of pneumococci by reducing the strains resistant to antibiotics.26

On top of this, good hygiene practice is essential inprotecting yourself against pneumonia. Washing your hands often with warm, soapy water, being conscious of your general health, and maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate rest are just some of the ways to maintain a good hygiene.27

If you’re from a group that is more vulnerable to contracting pneumonia – be it an adult above the age of 65 years old, or an adult with underlying health conditions and comorbidities28 – it is imperative to receive the proper vaccinations.2Even so, just because you are under the age of 65 it doesn't mean you are completely safe from pneumonia completely safe from pneumonia and other related diseases. 

For more information on pneumococcal vaccinations, or if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed, do reach out to a healthcare professional to receive the medical attention and advice you need.


1. Statistics on Cause of Death, Malaysia, 2020 | https://tinyurl.com/67wwab2z | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

2. Influenza and Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/2p82mx6k | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

3. Flu, NHS | https://tinyurl.com/8nmf9fdr | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

4. A Hospital-based Study on the Local Epidemiology of Pneumonia Including the Contribution of Legionella Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/4um8zunx | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

5. Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/2p8n7zas | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

6. Serotype Distribution of Invasive, Non-Invasive and Carried Streptococcus pneumoniae in Malaysia: A Meta-Analysis | https://tinyurl.com/547wfyws | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

7. Coronavirus and Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/4w39d2af | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

8. What’s the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/c263466u | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

9. Is it Bronchitis or Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/nee4kf3r | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

10. Sore Throat 101: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments |
https://tinyurl.com/yetvaydr | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

11. Sore throat - Symptoms and causes | https://tinyurl.com/37vy4h8h | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

12. Could it be Pneumonia? | https://tinyurl.com/4sb7h2m5 | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

13. Pneumonia Symptoms | https://tinyurl.com/hrk2k6f8 | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

14. Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/vfu4ruu3 | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

15. Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis | https://tinyurl.com/7mzwup5f | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

16. Cyanosis - StatPearls | https://tinyurl.com/u4vbx5yn | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

17. An Overview of Blue Lips | https://tinyurl.com/4v8re7ds | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

18. What Can Sputum Tell us? | https://tinyurl.com/5w7yfkdc | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

19. Yellow, Brown, or Green Phlegm: What Does the Color of My Phlegm Mean? | https://tinyurl.com/2u7mf72n | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

20. What Causes Blood-Tinged Sputum, and How Is It Treated? | https://tinyurl.com/yhcjxvep | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

21. Fever | https://tinyurl.com/5599ddjm | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

22. Why Fever Can be Your Friend in Times of Illness | https://tinyurl.com/n8rfffxv | Accessed on 23 Nov 2021

23. Excessive Sweating (Hyperhidrosis): Symptoms & Signs | https://tinyurl.com/h3n3svtp | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

24. What Causes Loss of Appetite? | https://tinyurl.com/hwfbwfef| Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

25. Early Diagnosis of Pneumonia with Deep Learning | https://tinyurl.com/37p7cwte | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

26. Impact of Existing Vaccines in Reducing Antibiotic Resistance: Primary and Secondary effects | https://tinyurl.com/k8a4r53m | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

27. 5 Tips for Preventing Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/x5398dka | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

28. Causes and Risk Factors of Pneumonia | https://tinyurl.com/22vhjbpy | Accessed on 24 Nov 2021

29. Pneumococcal Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know | https://tinyurl.com/2p94kb26 | Accessed 22 Dec 2021


The health information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider. All decisions regarding patient care must be made with a healthcare provider, considering the unique characteristics of the patient.

For Pfizer terms of use click here: Terms of Use | Pfizer – Breakthroughs That Change Patients’ Lives


*The free doctor consult initiative is supported and fully funded by DoctorOnCall