Walking pneumonia can cause mild symptoms but also have serious consequences. Learn about walking pneumonia, treatment, and how to avoid the infection.
Walking pneumonia describes an infection that affects the lining of your respiratory system, including your throat, lungs, and windpipe. Walking pneumonia tends to be mild. Many people can continue doing many of their regular daily activities when they have this condition.
Walking pneumonia is typically caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae (M. pneumoniae), a type of bacteria. The illness is usually milder than pneumonia caused by other kinds of bacteria and viruses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out.
In children, the symptoms are frequently called a chest cold, a common term for a sore throat, fever, and cough. In both youngsters and adults, M. pneumoniae can sometimes cause more than the mild symptoms of a chest cold or walking pneumonia, resulting in a serious lung infection — full-blown pneumonia that may require hospitalization, according to the CDC.
You may be contagious for up to 10 days.
What does walking pneumonia do to your body?
It can take between one to four weeks to get sick after you are exposed to the bacteria. Symptoms usually start gradually, and you may have only minor symptoms, similar to a cold, at first. About one in 10 people infected with M. pneumoniae, however, develop walking pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia symptoms
- Coughing, which may produce mucus
- Sore throat
- Mild flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain when you breathe
Walking pneumonia treatment and possible complications
Even though walking pneumonia is usually a non-serious disease, you shouldn’t ignore symptoms of walking pneumonia. While it’s true most people will recover from a mild illness without medicine, pneumonia may need treatment with antibiotics.
Albert Rizzo, MD, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association, urges seeing your doctor, even if you have only mild signs of walking pneumonia. He also advises drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest. Over-the-counter medications can be helpful to relieve nasal congestion, lower fever, and ease coughs, too.
While they’re uncommon, severe complications can develop from walking pneumonia if the infection worsens.
Complications may include:
- Serious pneumonia that may require treatment in the hospital
- Asthma attacks or worsening asthma symptoms
- Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
- Kidney problems
How to prevent walking pneumonia
Like many respiratory germs, coughing and sneezing spread walking pneumonia-causing M. pneumoniae. To reduce your risk of catching and spreading the disease:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water aren’t handy, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner often.
- Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or sneezing, whenever possible.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
- Put used tissues in a waste basket.
September 29, 2023
Janet O'Dell, RN