What is Walking Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. Pneumonia may be caused by a number of things, such as bacterial infection or viruses, and may affect patients in varying levels of severity. The least severe form of pneumonia is often called “walking pneumonia,” since it is not so debilitating as to prevent the patient from carrying out regular activities. In some cases, walking pneumonia is so mild that the patient may not even realize he or she is ill.

While walking pneumonia may be caused by a wide variety of things, the most common cause is a bacterium called Mycoplasma Pneumoniae. People of any age range may be affected by walking pneumonia, but it is most common in older children and adults under the age of 40. Walking pneumonia is most often seen in late summer and early fall, but it is capable of striking at any time. Walking pneumonia is contagious and airborne, making people who frequent crowded places such as public schools at a higher risk for contracting the disease. Though it is contagious, walking pneumonia tends to spread slowly. Like most contagious conditions, walking pneumonia is only contagious for a small fraction of time. In the case of walking pneumonia, the contagious period is approximately ten days. Some medical professionals believe a person has to spend prolonged periods of time with a contagious patient to contract walking pneumonia. Despite this belief, there is a history of widespread outbreaks occurring roughly every four to eight years.

Symptoms of walking pneumonia may take fifteen to twenty-five days after exposure to appear, and then gradually develop over a period of two to four days. These symptoms may frequently include:

  • Coughing
  • May be a deep, violent cough that produces little to no mucus
  • Low fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • May linger after all other symptoms have dissipated
  • Less commonly, a walking pneumonia patient may experience a rash, anemia, or ear pain, possibly accompanying an ear infection.

Many patients never receive a diagnosis as symptoms tend to be mild enough to not cause concern. Fortunately, mild cases typically resolve themselves without treatment. If symptoms do not improve or are bothersome, it is best to go to the doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. When a patient does go to a doctor and is diagnosed with walking pneumonia, however, they may be prescribed antibiotics and the patient often feels better within a few days. Over-the-counter medications for cold and flu rarely help abate symptoms, but fluids and rest often help your body recover. If you have been diagnosed with walking pneumonia and are taking antibiotics, do not take any over-the-counter medications without asking your doctor or pharmacist if it is safe to do so.


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