Walking pneumonia symptoms can feel like a cold, but if you also have a fever and chest pain you should rest. Here's what you should know about the symptoms.
You have pneumonia when an organism — a virus or bacteria — overgrows in the air sacs in one or both lungs and causes inflammation, an immune reaction. The sac fills up with fluid or pus, which makes you cough. You typically will find it hard to breathe.
People sometimes pick up pneumonia in hospitals and other medical centers, or when they need to be on a ventilator to support their breathing. Other kinds of virus or bacteria are spread in the general population when a sick person sneezes or coughs. Chickenpox and measles can build up in the lungs and cause pneumonia.
The healthier you are, the more resistance you’ll have to infections. To protect yourself, get a flu vaccine each year, consider a vaccine for pneumococcal pneumonia, stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing, wash your hands frequently, and get enough sleep and exercise. People with weakened immune systems, smokers, and people with asthma are at more risk. In babies, children, and seniors, pneumonia can be serious.
Walking pneumonia, officially called atypical pneumonia, is a mild lung infection usually caused by a bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumonia (MY-ko-plaz-ma noo-MOAN-yah.) It might take as long as a month for you to get sick after exposure. Schools, college dorms, military barracks, and nursing homes tend to have outbreaks.
Walking pneumonia symptoms include fatigue, fever and chills, pain when breathing, and a dry cough that produces little mucus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children younger than 5 years old may wheeze and vomit or have diarrhea, even without a fever.
In an adult, walking pneumonia at first might appear to be a bad cold. You might be getting by with over-the-counter antihistamines and cough medicine. Be concerned if breathing is difficult or painful. Even though you don’t need a hospital stay, walking pneumonia symptoms require medical care. Sometimes the cough can last for weeks or months, especially if you have asthma or other lung problems.
You’ll need lab tests or images of your lung for a definite diagnosis, which usually leads to a prescription for an antibiotic. In most cases, the antibiotic will help you feel better within three to five days, according to the American Lung Association. But try to rest and drink more fluids during those days.
As early as the 1930s, doctors noticed that some patients with lung infections didn’t need to stay in bed, but their symptoms lasted longer and didn’t respond to some of the antibiotics used for pneumonia. In 1944, scientists identified the culprit, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a type of bacteria with unique features. It is the smallest organism that can live and reproduce outside a host’s cell (viruses, for example, cannot).
More than two million infections occur each year in the United States, many never diagnosed. Cases of walking pneumonia peak every three to seven years, and tend to be more common in summer and early fall. However, if your chest hurts and you’re coughing in the winter, you could have walking pneumonia symptoms and should talk to a doctor.
December 06, 2019
Janet O’Dell, RN