Diagnosis and classification of pneumonia

Children with pneumonia may have a range of clinical presentations, depending on their age and the cause of the pneumonia. Children who have bacterial pneumonia usually become severely ill and show the following symptoms:

  • Fast or difficult breathing (see table below)
  • Cough
  • Fever and chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Wheezing.

Adults with pneumonia also have fever, cough, and fast or difficult breathing.

Estimating 'fast breathing' in children in different age groups.

If the child is aged:The child has fast breathing if you count:
2 months to 12 months old 50 breaths or more per minute
12 months to 5 years old 40 breaths or more per minute

In severe cases of pneumonia, children under five-years-old may struggle to breathe and usually show chest in-drawing, which you can observe as drawing inwards or retracting of the lower chest (red arrows in the figure below) during inhalation (taking air into the lungs).

Chest in-drawing during inspiration

Chest in-drawing during inspiration: the lower chest wall moves in sharply as the child breathes in. (Diagram: Dr Radmila Mileusnic)

Pneumonia in children and adults is classified into non-severe and severe pneumonia based on the features of the condition summarised in the box below. This classification is very important because it determines what treatment is given to the patient.

A child with fast breathing, chest in-drawing or stridor should be immediately referred to hospital.

Severe signs of pneumonia in children and adults


  • Age less than 2 months
  • Presence of general danger signs (unable to drink or eat, lethargic or unconscious)
  • Chest in-drawing
  • Stridor (a harsh noise made during inhalation)
  • Respiratory rate exceeding the limits.


  • Age 65 years or older
  • Respiratory rate equal to or greater than 30 breaths per minute
  • Presence of confusion.

If a child with pneumonia has fast breathing, but no general danger signs, or chest in-drawing, or stridor, classify him/her as having non-severe pneumonia. Adults with pneumonia who do not have the severe signs given in the box above, are also classified as having non-severe pneumonia.

Last modified: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 12:08 AM