Walking pneumonia can cause mild symptoms but also have serious consequences. Learn what is walking pneumonia, treatment, and how to avoid the infection.
“Walking pneumonia” is a commonly used term to describe an infection that affects the lining of the respiratory system — including the throat, lungs and windpipe. As the name of the disease suggests, walking pneumonia tends to be mild, so many people are often up and about, doing many of their regular daily activities, when they have walking pneumonia.
The answer to this question — “what is walking pneumonia actually caused by?” — explains why it is usually a non-serious illness.
Walking pneumonia is typically caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae (M. pneumoniae), a type of bacteria resulting in respiratory system infections that are almost always 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 M. pneumoniae infection are frequently called a “chest cold,” a common term for the sore throat, fever, and cough of tracheobronchitis. In both youngsters and adults, sometimes M. pneumoniae can 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 up to 10 days.
What is walking pneumonia doing to your body?
It can take someone between one to four weeks to get sick after you are exposed to M. pneumoniae. Symptoms of illness caused by the bacteria usually start gradually, and you may only have minor symptoms, similar to a cold, at first. However, about one in 10 people infected with M. pneumoniae develop walking pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia symptoms
Coughing, which may produce mucus
- Sore throat
- Mild flu-type symptoms, such as fever and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain when you take a deep breath
Walking pneumonia treatment and possible complications
Even though walking pneumonia is usually a non-serious disease, the American Lung Association warns you shouldn’t ignore any symptoms of walking pneumonia. While it’s true most people will recover from a mild illness caused by M. pneumoniae without medicine, pneumonia caused by the disease may need treatment with antibiotics, according to the CDC.
Albert Rizzo, MD, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association, urges seeing your doctor ASAP, 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 not common, severe complications can develop from walking pneumonia if the infection worsens, the CDC points out, including serious pneumonia that may require treatment in the hospital, asthma attacks or worsening asthma symptoms, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and kidney problems.
How to prevent walking pneumonia
Like many respiratory germs, walking pneumonia-causing M. pneumoniae is spread by coughing and sneezing. To reduce the risk of catching and spreading the disease, follow these tips from the CDC:
- 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 have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
- Put any used tissues in a waste basket.
November 12, 2019
Janet O'Dell, RN