Diagnosis of pneumonia involves blood tests that likely will show an elevation of white blood cells.
In severe cases with a pneumococcal pneumonia blood cultures might be positive for Pneumococcus, a bacterium often associated with pneumonia. Sputum can be sent for Gram staining and preliminary identification of the bacteria in this way can help the physician to decide which antibiotic to use.
A chest X-ray is useful to show an infiltrate indicative of pneumonia. Pneumonias with some bacteria are more commonly prone to develop an abscess, which would show up on X-rays as a lung cavity.
In tuberculosis of the lungs a cavity is a sign that tuberculosis has likely been present for several months.
A good sample of early morning sputum coughed up into a sterile container and then quickly brought to the laboratory can lead to a positive identification of the bacterium that causes the pneumonia in a good number of patients. If the patient does not adequately respond to the therapy, an urgent bronchoscopy should be performed by a respirologist to obtain brushings of cells and material for culture.
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