Not many know about it, but walking pneumonia is a mild case of pneumonia that is typically called atypical pneumonia. It is caused by viruses or bacteria, most often by a common bacterium named Mycoplasma pneumonia. Unlike pneumonia, you need not get hospitalized or take complete bed rest during walking pneumonia as its symptoms are mild which allows you to continue with your daily activities. Now, you can understand why the illness is named ‘walking’.
However, walking pneumonia symptoms can still cause tiredness and make you miserable with chest pain, fever, cough, mild chills and headache. And as the symptoms remain mild, detecting the illness gets a little difficult. In this blog we have discussed the symptoms of walking pneumonia, types of walking pneumonia and everything else that you need to know to understand the illness and reach your doctor at the right time.
What are the symptoms of walking pneumonia?
The main symptoms of walking pneumonia are very similar to common cold. Symptoms seem to be gradual initially (2 weeks from exposure) which can worsen over a month. The common symptoms include:
- Persistent dry cough
- Sore throat
- Inflammation in the main branches of wind pipe
How to know if it is walking pneumonia? If the above-mentioned symptoms last over a week and more, chances are you are infected with walking pneumonia. The symptoms tend to vary depending on the area of infection. In case of an infection of upper respiratory tract, you will suffer from labored breathing, whereas the lower respiratory tract infection affects the lungs causing nausea, upset stomach and vomiting.
Other related symptoms include:
- Rapid breathing
- Flu-like symptoms
- Labored breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
Symptoms in kids: Infants, children and toddlers may show the exact symptoms as adults. However, you should keep your kid at home until recovery, even if he/she feels comfortable going to the school.
How can you prevent walking pneumonia and control it to spread?
Same as pneumonia, walking pneumonia spreads through coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Here are a few tips you can follow to prevent walking pneumonia:
- Have a flu vaccine every year to prevent pneumonia by flu.
- Have a word with your physician about the pneumonia vaccine. However, there is no vaccine for mycoplasma pneumonia or viral pneumonia, but some individuals protect themselves by getting vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia.
- Stop smoking
- Keep your hands clean by washing frequently with soapy, warm water.
- Avoid sharing cups, utensils and food
- When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and advise others to do the same to prevent infections spread.
What is the difference between regular pneumonia and walking pneumonia?
Typical pneumonia and walking pneumonia are different in many ways, such as:
- Walking pneumonia doesn’t demand hospitalization or complete bed rest (rest is still recommended).
- Walking pneumonia is a milder illness as compared to regular pneumonia.
- Typical pneumonia is the result of influenza virus or streptococcus pneumonia or rhinovirus, while walking pneumonia is generally a result of mycoplasma pneumonia.
What are the types of walking pneumonia?
Usually, school-going children carry walking pneumonia virus. If you have contracted the infection, it will be evident after two to three weeks. Overall, there are three types of walking pneumonia bacteria, which includes:
Mycoplasma pneumonia: As per various trusted studies, the estimated number out of every fifty cases to get infected by these bacteria is up to 10 in the USA. The symptoms are mostly milder than the other types. It is the most common type of walking pneumonia.
Chlamydial pneumonia: Like mycoplasma pneumonia, chlamydial pneumonia is also caused in children going to school. According to research, around 300,000 people are infected with these bacteria every year in the United States.
Ligionella Pneumonia: Also called as the Legionnaires’ Disease, this one is the most severe kind of walking pneumonia. It leads to respiratory failure and can even cause death. Ligionella Pneumonia never spreads from one person to another, but through the droplets of contaminated water. It usually affects adults (older age adults), especially those having chronic illnesses and weak immune systems. In the United States, studies infer that almost 5000 people are infected by this bacterium every year.
What boosts the risk of walking pneumonia?
Like typical pneumonia, the risk of getting infected by walking pneumonia increases if you:
- Are above 65 years
- Are younger or 2 years old
- Have illness or weak immunity system
- Use inhaled corticosteroids for a long time
- Are a prolonged user of immunosuppressant drugs
- Have a respiratory disorder like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
- Smoke tobacco
How a doctor diagnoses the condition of walking pneumonia?
You may not find it necessary to visit a doctor for the symptoms of pneumonia but if you do, there are several ways your physician will diagnose pneumonia. One of the most performed tests is a chest X-ray that helps distinguishing between other respiratory infections and pneumonia. When you visit a doctor for walking pneumonia, he/she will:
- Ask you questions about your medical history and overall health
- Carry out a physical examination
- Ask about the noticed symptoms
- Perform other tests based on the information gathered.
There are some laboratory tests carried out to diagnose walking pneumonia, such as:
- A throat swab
- A sputum gram stain study
- A culture of mucus, called sputum, from your lungs
- Blood culture
- Tests for particular antibodies or antigens
- A complete blood count (CBC)
In case of your child getting affected by walking pneumonia, the doctor will treat the condition by knowing about the child’s medical history and a few physical examinations. In children, an X-raya dn sputum test is the most common ways of diagnosing walking pneumonia. However, for milder symptoms, X-rays or other tests are not always required.
What is the process of walking pneumonia treatment?
Walking pneumonia is a milder form of pneumonia which doesn’t necessarily need hospitalization. However, if the symptoms don’t go away in a few weeks or you experience any serious signs of discomfort, you must see a doctor.
Your doctor will provide you antibiotics after complete diagnosis.
The antibiotics mostly prescribed for walking pneumonia cased by the bacteria, Mycoplasma pneumonia include:
- Fluoroquinolones: these are drugs like levofaxacin (Levaquin® ) and ciprofloxacin (Cipro®). It is not recommended for kids.
- Tetracyclines: These are a group of drugs including tetracycline and doxycycline. This type is prescribed to older children and adults.
- Macrolide antibiotics: Macrolide drugs are the best type of antibiotics for children suffering from walking pneumonia as well as adults. These include drugs like clarithromycin (Biaxin®) and azithromycin (Zithromax®). Over a few decades, few mycoplasma pneumoniae strains have got resistant to these types of antibiotics. May be it is because of the widespread use of azithromycin in treating various other illnesses.
For mild symptoms, you can also seek advice from a chemist and take over-the-counter medications to relieve walking pneumonia symptoms like cough, nasal congestion and loosen the mucus buildup in your chest. In case of fever:
- Take medicine
- Drink more fluids
- Take proper rest
In case of a bacterial infection, your child might respond to some of the above-mentioned antibiotics. Some other helpful ways to help the child recover from walking pneumonia faster include:
Drinking more fluid: Give your child more fluids like soup, herbal tea and water, specifically if he/she has fever. Giving plenty of fluids helps protect them from dehydration, which could make the condition worse.
Proper rest: Do not let your kid go out of the house until complete recovery. It is important for them to get proper rest for faster recovery.
Medicines for fever discomfort: You can give a cough medicine to help the body clear the chest. However, ask your doctor before giving the cough syrup.
Warm compress or heating pad: Place a warm compress on your child’s chest (if he/she is comfortable with it). The warmth will allow reducing any chest pain and discomfort.
Use a humidifier in the room: Using a humidifier helps easing the breathing difficulties your child might be having due to walking pneumonia.
In how many days can you recover from the conditions of walking pneumonia?
The conditions of walking pneumonia are mostly mild and can go away in a few weeks. You can recover faster by taking more amounts of fluids and proper rest at home. If you visit a doctor, you will be on antibiotic for a few days that will reduce the recovery time of the illness. However, make sure you take the antibiotic for the prescribed period.
Is walking pneumonia contagious?
Yes, it is contagious when caused by mycoplasma pneumoniae. It is spread via person-to-person contact. When a person infected by walking pneumonia coughs or sneezes, the bacteria in form of droplets turn airborne and another person nearby might inhale it.
Walking pneumonia can spread easily in crowded places or shared living spaces like schools, nursing homes, homes and dormitories. Walking pneumonia mostly infects school children, when in school premises and younger adults, in colleges, hostels or workplace. Now you know the reason why older adults are less affected by walking pneumonia as compared to school-going children and younger adults.
The risk of getting pneumonia due to severe walking pneumonia symptoms is higher in individuals with respiratory issues like asthma, COPD (Congestive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), emphysema or a weakened immune system.
How long are you contagious with walking pneumonia?
If you are affected by walking pneumonia through Mycoplasma pneumoniae, it can be considered contagious from 2-4 weeks before the incubation period (period when the symptoms show up). It is the time when you won’t be aware of being contagious and spreading the illness around. Once the symptoms show up, you remain contagious with walking pneumonia until complete recovery from the illness.
Walking pneumonia Vs. Bronchitis symptoms
The main difference between bronchitis and pneumonia is that pneumonia affects the air sacs in our lungs while bronchitis affects the lungs’ airways. Both the illnesses are respiratory disorders which make breathing difficult for the infected person as it retards the functioning of the lungs. If you want to know if it’s walking pneumonia or bronchitis, you need to see a doctor who will perform certain medical exams to find out. The initial symptoms of both the respiratory illness is same, coughing, which produces thick mucus, called phlegm.
To give you an idea about the difference between walking pneumonia and bronchitis, we have also discussed the symptoms of bronchitis here (like we did of walking pneumonia):
The main symptoms of bronchitis depend on its type: acute or chronic. Let’s look into it one by one.
Acute bronchitis show symptoms quite similar to an upper respiratory infection, which includes:
- Stuffed nose
- Body ache
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Mild headache
While coughing, you can see your phlegm looks yellow or green. The symptoms of acute bronchitis get better in a few days, but you might suffer from dry coughs for a couple of weeks or more.
Talking about chronic bronchitis, its symptoms are persistent and last for more than three months, especially coughing. You might also notice that your cough changes cycles, getting better once and then again worse. Flare-up is the worse stage of bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is categorized as a part of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a group of conditions which includes asthma and emphysema.
T he more specific symptoms of chronic bronchitis are:
- chest discomfort
- shortness of breath
To summarize the difference between walking pneumonia and bronchitis, the latter affects the bronchial tubes of the lungs and doesn’t target the small airways of our lungs. Moreover, it typically produces productive cough. It is the one in which the mucus is clear, green, yellowish-grey or white in color. You might also see other accompanied symptoms like fatigue, sneezing and runny nose. If you have are confused and find it difficult to differentiate between the two, it is time you see a doctor for clear reports.
To sum up, walking pneumonia is a mild version of pneumonia, also called atypical pneumonia. Caused by bacteria and viruses, the walking pneumonia symptoms include fever, chest pain, body ache, headache, chills and more. Younger adults and children are the main targets of walking pneumonia symptoms.