Mild cases of pneumonia, an infection of the respiratory system, are often referred to as “walking pneumonia.” Walking pneumonia is more common in summer and early fall, though it can occur any time of year.
Walking Pneumonia Symptoms
You may have walking pneumonia if you have symptoms such as:
- Cough that may produce mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain that is worse when inhaling
- Sore throat
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
Children under 5 years old may have some different symptoms, such as:
Symptoms of walking pneumonia can resemble those of a common cold and come on slowly and gradually. Symptoms tend to be mild and people can usually perform their normal daily activities. However, unlike a cold caused by a virus that usually goes away in less than a week, symptoms of walking pneumonia persist for weeks.
What Causes Walking Pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia is commonly caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a type of atypical bacteria that damages the lining of the respiratory system. Pneumonia caused by atypical bacteria tends to be less serious than pneumonia caused by regular bacteria.
M. pneumoniae is contagious and is transmitted from person-to-person via respiratory droplets dispersed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. M. pneumoniae infections often occur in crowded settings such as schools, college dorms, hospitals, nursing homes, and military barracks.
People at higher risk for developing walking pneumonia include those:
- With weakened immune systems
- Recovering from respiratory illness
How Is Walking Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Walking pneumonia is diagnosed with a physical examination that includes a doctor listening to the lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal bubbling or crackling sounds that suggest pneumonia.
Other tests used to diagnose walking pneumonia include:
- Chest X-ray to help determine the location and scope of the infection
- Sputum test, in which a sample of sputum is taken after a deep cough and examined
- Blood tests to determine which organism is causing the infection
- Pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels in the blood
If symptoms are severe, the patient has other underlying health conditions, or is over age 65, other tests may include:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan for detailed images of the lungs
- Pleural fluid culture, in which a fluid sample is taken via a needle between the ribs from the area around the lungs (pleural area) and analyzed
What Is the Treatment for Walking Pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia often goes away on its own without medical treatment. Home remedies to relieve symptoms include:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Use a humidifier
- Don’t smoke
- Lozenges for sore throat (young children should not be given lozenges)
Medications used to treat walking pneumonia symptoms include:
- Macrolide antibiotics such as azithromycin (Zithromax) can be used for both children and adults and are the antibiotic of choice
- Tetracycline antibiotics such as doxycycline (Doxy-100, Monodox, Oracea): can be used for older children and adults
- Fluoroquinolone antibiotics should only be used in adults
- Cough medicines
- Fever reducers/pain relievers
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