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Walking Pneumonia Symptoms, Treatment, Recovery Time, and Contagiousness

Updated on July 2, 2017
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My name is Dr. Suresh Kumar, and I live in India. I enjoy writing about medical topics.

A chest X-ray showing the presence of pneumonia
A chest X-ray showing the presence of pneumonia

Symptoms and Treatment for Walking Pneumonia

What is walking pneumonia?
It is a mild case of pneumonia that is not caused by streptococcus pneumoniae.
Also called atypical pneumonia.
Is it contagious?
Yes. You can transmit it by coughing or sneezing, and you are contagious up to 10 days after you're infected.
People who live or work in crowded areas are the most likely to catch it.
What are the symptoms?
Sometimes symptoms are so mild, people might not even know they have it. Otherwise, it might be mistaken for the common cold or a mild case of the flu.
Symptoms usually occur around 2 weeks after being infected.
How is it treated?
Most cases don't need medical treatment and go away on their own. More serious cases might require antibiotics.
Macrolide antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, and tetracyclines can all be used to treat
How long does it take to recover?
It varies — could be a few weeks or a few months.
Antibiotics might speed up the recovery period.

What Is Walking Pneumonia?

This medical term is often used to describe a milder case of pneumonia that is not severe enough to require you to be hospitalized or put on bed rest.

According to WebMD, it is the least scary kind of pneumonia that is most often caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae.1 It is also called "atypical pneumonia," because it is not caused by the bacteria that causes regular pneumonia.

There are three different types of walking pneumonia:2

  1. Mycoplasma pneumonia - This normally affects people under 40, especially those living or working in heavily populated areas. Kids often bring this home to their parents from school and parents end up getting sick 2-3 weeks later.3 This kind is most prominent in the late summer and fall.
  2. Legionella pneumonia (also known as Legionnaires' disease) - This is not spread person to person. Instead, it is contracted when you breathe in vapors of water infected with L. pneumophila, which grows in places like the water supply of buildings. It tends to be more severe (and more rare) than other forms of walking pneumonia. Most people who get sick are those with compromised immune systems
  3. Chlamydophila pneumonia - This kind of walking pneumonia occurs throughout the year and has very mild symptoms. It's estimated that 50% of the US population has had this kind of pneumonia by the time they turn 20.

Walking pneumonia is usually not dangerous in and of itself, but it could be problematic for someone who has an immune system that is compromised.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have walking pneumonia, you might not feel that bad. In fact, there's a good chance you'll feel well enough to do your normal routine.

In the beginning stages, walking pneumonia may have no visible symptoms. If there are symptoms, they are typical of having the flu or the common cold. Prominent symptoms can take 15-25 days to appear after you've been exposed to the bacteria.

This is called the incubation period. The symptoms are similar in both children and adults. They will usually develop gradually and may last for several days.

Some Symptoms May Include:

  • Running a low-grade fever
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Having a dry cough that will worsen over time, may produce little mucus, and may come in violent spasms
  • Chills
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Stiffness in your joints
  • Wheezing, labored breathing, or other breathing problems
  • Malaise
  • Appetite that is decreased
  • Lymph glands that are enlarged
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A lump in your neck
  • Fatigue, lethargy
  • Skin rash

In children, especially infants, they may be feeding poorly. In children, it more common to have:

  • Chest pain and difficulty in breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • A cough that lasts longer than seven days
  • Headaches
  • Decreased activity level

Even after the symptoms have gone away, a person may have a lingering weakness that can last for a week or so. You may also get ear infections, a skin rash (especially with mycoplasma pneumoniae), or anemia.

If you are pregnant and have the symptoms of walking pneumonia, you should see your physician because the baby may be at risk.

If You Go to the Doctor

Many people will not feel ill enough to go to the doctor if they have walking pneumonia.

If you do, there are some common diagnostic signs that the physician uses to help identify and diagnose walking pneumonia, which include:

  • The characteristic throaty sound
  • Having lymph glands that are enlarged
  • Diffuse infiltrates in a chest X-ray
  • Having blood tests run that show your white blood cell count is elevated, which normally indicates an infection
  • Doing a blood culture to identify the bacteria that is responsible for causing the infection
  • Doing a sputum test in order to indicate which type of bacteria is causing the infection.

You doctor might ask you how long you've been having symptoms, where you work, or if anyone around you has gotten sick. They will listen to your chest, and you might have an X-ray or other tests done.

It might be hard to tell when and if you should see a doctor, but as a rule, it may be a good idea to see doctor if you're recovering from a cold and it suddenly gets worse or you develop frequent coughing, fever, or chills.2 You should definitely see your doctor if you have chest pain when you breathe, you become short of breath, or if your cough is preventing you from sleeping.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis will begin with a thorough evaluation of your symptoms along with a physical exam. During the exam, the physician will listen to your lungs using a stethoscope. They are listening for any sound that is unusual, like a crackling or rumbling sound that is produced when you breathe.

These sounds are usually considered a sign of walking pneumonia. To make an accurate diagnosis, the physician might also do a chest X-ray or possibly a blood test to see if your white blood count is elevated. To see what is causing the infection, they may also do a sputum test.

Treatment

Walking pneumonia will often go away on its own without treatment. Some doctors will choose this route, but if you have a compromised immune system the physician will likely opt to treat it. They may also opt to treat if you have had the symptoms for a considerably long time and they are not getting better or they are getting worse.

When treating it, the physician will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria that are causing the infection. The antibiotics are usually in pill form, but if the patient gets worse they can use intravenous antibiotics.

A physician may also prescribe a bronchodilators, which will help to keep your bronchial tubes clear to make breathing easier.

Is Walking Pneumonia Contagious?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes! The bacteria that causes it can be transmitted through airborne water droplets because it thrives in your respiratory system. You can transmit it from person to person by coughing or sneezing.

It is contagious but spreads slowly. If you get it, you could be contagious for up to 10 days.

If you know someone who has walking pneumonia and is not on antibiotics for it, you should stay away from them. If you have walking pneumonia you should make sure that you are washing your hands with antibacterial soap, especially after blowing your nose or coughing into your hands. Make sure that you cover your nose and mouth when sneezing. The virus/bacteria will stay in your body for approximately ten days even if it is not active.

You should also make sure that you are not drinking or eating after someone who has walking pneumonia, nor should you allow anyone to eat or drink after you if you have it. Because you are contagious when you have walking pneumonia, try to avoid being around people who have a compromised immune system.

Even though you can spread this disease to another person, the bacteria does not usually cause the same infection but instead they may just trigger an upper respiratory infection like the flu or a cold if you have a healthy immune system.

Home Remedies for Treatment of Symptoms

There are some ways to help treat the symptoms of walking pneumonia at home. Here are some methods that might help make you more comfortable:

  • Drink herbal teas with a few drops of lemon juice several times a day for a few days.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
  • Use a vapor rub on your nose and chest to help open up your clogged respiratory tract.
  • Rest as much as you can.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, avoiding sugar, fried foods, and highly refined carbohydrates.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications for body aches and fever.
  • Drink fresh vegetable juices.

The following are herbal remedies that have not been scientifically proven to provide reliable treatment for walking pneumonia, though they have helped some people find relief.

  • Mix a tablespoon of honey and ginger juice and take it two or three times a day. This is said to help destroy the bacterial infection in your respiratory tract and lungs.
  • Take equal amounts of ginger, black pepper, chili pepper, and garlic, and add enough water to make a paste. Apply the paste directly to your chest to help clear your respiratory passage.
  • Eat foods that are rich in vitamins C and A or take supplements to make sure you're getting enough of them. These might help strengthen the inner linings of your lungs and also act as a shield to help prevent the recurrence of walking pneumonia. They might even help to speed up recovery.
  • Taking Echinacea and thymus extracts could help trigger the production of your white blood cells to help get rid of the virus and bacteria and strengthen your immune system.

No matter what, if your symptoms do not go away or start to get worse, make sure you see your doctor.

Recovery Time

Complete recovery from having walking pneumonia can take approximately a month but most of the symptoms will start to disappear within a week. Even after you no longer have the symptoms, you should still take care to avoid having a relapse.

Walking pneumonia can reoccur but it is usually not as severe as the first time. Up to a certain level some people may develop immunity against getting walking pneumonia, but this immunity may not be permanent.

References

Sources Cited:

1. "What is Walking Pneumonia?" December 11, 2016. WebMD. Retrieved February 23, 2017.

2. Dock, Elly, and Elizabeth Boskey. "Atypical Pneumonia." November 19, 2015. HealthLine. Retrieved February 23, 2017.

3. Olson, Eric J. "Walking Pneumonia — What Does It Mean?" November 10, 2016. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 23, 2017.

Additional Source:

"Atypical Pneumonia (Walking Pneumonia)." April 1, 2015. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 23, 2017.

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