What Are the Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia?

Reviewed on 7/6/2020

What Is Walking Pneumonia?

Pneumonia
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are often mild, may resemble those of a common cold, come on gradually, and produce mucus.

Walking pneumonia is a term often used to describe mild cases of pneumonia, an infection of the respiratory system. Walking pneumonia is usually caused by a type of atypical bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Pneumonia caused by atypical bacteria tends to be less serious than pneumonia caused by regular bacteria. 

M. pneumoniae infections are common in the U.S, with an estimated 2 million cases each year. However, many infections are not diagnosed, so the actual number is likely higher. Walking pneumonia is more common in summer and early fall, though it can occur at any time of year. 

What Are Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia?

Symptoms of walking pneumonia are often mild, may resemble those of a common cold, come on gradually, and may include:

What Causes Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia is commonly caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a type of atypical bacteria damages the lining of the respiratory system.

M. pneumoniae is contagious and is spread from person to person via respiratory droplets that are dispersed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. M. pneumoniae infections often occur in crowded settings such as schools, nursing homes, hospitals, college residence halls, and military barracks.

The incubation period – the time between exposure and when symptoms develop - for M. pneumoniae infections is between 1 to 4 weeks. 

People at higher risk for developing walking pneumonia include those:

  • Recovering from respiratory illness
  • With weakened immune systems

How Is Walking Pneumonia Diagnosed?

Walking pneumonia is diagnosed with a physical examination that includes a doctor listening to your 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 
  • Blood tests to determine which organism is causing the infection
  • Pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels in the blood
  • Sputum test, in which a sample of sputum is taken after a deep cough and examined

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 

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What Is the Treatment for Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia often goes away on its own without medical treatment. Home remedies to relieve symptoms include:

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids/stay hydrated
  • Don’t smoke
  • Use a humidifier 
  • Lozenges for sore throat (young children should not be given lozenges)

Medications that may be used to treat walking pneumonia symptoms include:

What Are Complications of Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia usually causes mild symptoms, but sometimes severe complications can occur that require hospitalization. 

Complications of walking pneumonia include:

How Do You Prevent Walking Pneumonia?

Mycoplasma pneumoniae, the bacteria that causes walking pneumonia, is spread by respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. 

To prevent the spread of M. pneumoniae infection:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or uses alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow
  • Throw away used tissues immediately
  • Get the flu vaccine each year
  • Get the pneumococcal vaccine if recommended by your doctor
  • Quit smoking

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Reviewed on 7/6/2020
References
Source: https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/mycoplasma/index.html