Walking pneumonia is a layman’s term for a form of inflammatory lung condition caused by mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria. Properly named Mycoplasma pneumonia, but sometimes referred to by a broader term, atypical pneumonia, this infection is an atypical form of the condition, meaning that the symptoms differ from that of common pneumonia. Although it can cause discomfort, it is the least threatening form of pneumonia, and most people recover from it without extensive treatment.
This infection is most commonly the result of a lung infection, but other causes, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi have been reported. Mycoplasma can also lead to walking pneumonia, and anything like chemicals or inhaled food can be a cause as well.
Walking pneumonia is most often contracted by people under 40. People who frequent high traffic areas, such as schools and other public places are at highest risk of exposure to pneumonia-causing bacteria. Even so, a person who has been infected may not notice any signs until 15-25 days after coming into contact with contaminants.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia resemble that of the common cold, so some cases of walking pneumonia go undetected. The common symptoms are:
- Dry cough – a frequent dry, violent cough that yields little to no mucus and no blood. If blood appears while coughing, consult a doctor immediately.
- Mild flu symptoms – fevers, chills, and muscle aches, usually in the chest area are not uncommon for a person with walking pneumonia. Keep in mind, these symptoms are usually mild, and any extreme form of these should be immediately brought to the attention of a doctor.
- Sore throat – a persisting sore throat is usually the result of bacteria, and the bacteria that causes walking pneumonia can also cause a sore throat.
- Headache – a dull headache usually accompanies walking pneumonia. Consult a doctor if the headache persists for too long, or becomes as strong as a migraine.
- Tiredness – becoming fatigued more easily than usual, or requiring more energy to complete simple tasks is another symptom of walking pneumonia.
- Sweating – unexplained sweating, with or without a fever, could mean your body’s immune system is working overtime to get rid of an infection.
- Weakness and soreness – feeling like your limbs are “too heavy” to perform small tasks, or feeling unexplainably sore can be indicators of walking pneumonia.
- Other, less common symptoms include eye soreness or pain when moving the eye in a given direction, joint stiffness, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, and in extreme cases, ear aches, anemia, and rashes.
If more than two symptoms are present, consult a healthcare professional immediately. Symptoms usually decrease in intensity 5-7 days after initial appearance, but may persist up to three weeks. Symptoms that last more than a week usually gradually get better until they go away altogether.
Diagnosis is usually done through a complete body physical and a chest x-ray, due to difficulty telling bronchitis and pneumonia apart in external exams. Extensive blood tests, CT scans, and bronchoscopies may be performed if diagnosing is difficult.
Walking pneumonia can subside without treatment, but administering antibiotics speeds up the process and eliminates some chances of complications. Consult your doctor before starting any medication to treat any form of pneumonia, because some medications can complicate more than they will help. Use aspirin and/or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophens. Do not take cough suppressants, unless otherwise instructed by your health care provider. Get as much rest as possible and increase your fluid intake to speed the healing process.
Most cases of walking pneumonia showed a complete recovery within a month, even without the use of antibiotics. However, the infection can pronounce itself more severely in really young patients and the elderly, so it’s important to get medical attention to control it, especially if you will be around small children and the elderly. It is commonly advised for people with walking pneumonia to stay away from infants.