Walking pneumonia is a mild lung infection. Causes may include bacteria, viruses or mold. Symptoms include a sore throat, sneezing, cough, headache, mild chills and a low-grade fever. Treatment includes antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines.
Walking pneumonia is a mild form of pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes your airways to swell, the air sacs in your lungs to fill with mucus and other fluids, a high fever and a cough with mucus. If you have walking pneumonia, you may feel well enough to walk around and carry out daily tasks without realizing you have pneumonia.
“Walking pneumonia” is the common term for atypical pneumonia.
The main differences between walking pneumonia and “regular” pneumonia are that walking pneumonia is milder and it usually doesn’t require bed rest or hospitalization.
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Anyone can get walking pneumonia. You’re more likely to get walking pneumonia if you:
Walking pneumonia is common. The number of cases fluctuates, usually spiking every three to seven years.
Walking pneumonia can occur at any time of the year. However, it occurs most often during the fall and winter.
Walking pneumonia symptoms include:
Walking pneumonia may feel like you have a bad cold or the flu.
Walking pneumonia causes may include:
Yes, walking pneumonia is very contagious. When someone who has walking pneumonia coughs, sneezes, talks, sings or breathes near you, tiny droplets containing the disease enter the air. The illness spreads if you inhale those droplets.
If you have walking pneumonia, you’re contagious for two to four weeks before symptoms appear (incubation period).
During the incubation period, you probably won’t realize you’re contagious and spreading walking pneumonia. Once the symptoms start, you’re contagious until the symptoms end.
A healthcare provider can diagnose walking pneumonia. They’ll conduct a physical examination and perform auscultation. They’ll ask about your symptoms, including how long you’ve had them. They may also ask whether any family, friends, coworkers or other people you regularly interact with are sick with similar symptoms.
During auscultation, the provider will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs. A stethoscope is a medical device with a small, metal disc (diaphragm) that connects to earpieces with rubber tubing. They’ll press the diaphragm against your chest and back and listen for abnormal sounds.
If the provider suspects you have walking pneumonia, they’ll order tests to help confirm their diagnosis.
A healthcare provider may order chest X-rays to see if there’s an infection in your lungs. They may also take a mucus sample or conduct blood tests to determine the cause of your walking pneumonia.
During a blood test, the provider will use a thin needle (21 gauge, slightly smaller than the size of a standard earring) to withdraw a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. They’ll send the sample to a laboratory.
A blood test usually isn’t painful, but you’ll feel a slight pinch as the needle goes into your skin.
Walking pneumonia treatment depends on its cause.
If a healthcare provider suspects that you have walking pneumonia and its cause is bacteria, they may prescribe antibiotics. They may prescribe the following:
If a provider prescribes antibiotics, be sure to finish the full course, even if you feel better. If you don’t, walking pneumonia may come back and be more difficult to treat.
If you have walking pneumonia as a result of a virus or another cause, you have to let the illness run its course.
A provider may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help relieve nasal congestion, cough and mucus buildup in your chest. You can help open your airways by drinking plenty of warm fluids, using a humidifier or taking a hot bath or shower.
If you have a fever, it’s a good idea to drink more fluids and rest. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help reduce your fever. Not everyone can take NSAIDs, so it’s a good idea to check with a provider before you take them.
Walking pneumonia is usually mild and doesn’t require hospitalization.
Some cases of walking pneumonia may go away without antibiotics. However, it may take longer to feel better. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any concerns about taking antibiotics.
Walking pneumonia is mild and can usually go away on its own without treatment. However, if you have walking pneumonia symptoms, a healthcare provider is the best person to help you determine the appropriate treatment.
Walking pneumonia may last from four to six weeks. A cough is usually the longest-lasting walking pneumonia symptom.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any vaccines available that prevent walking pneumonia. You can get walking pneumonia more than once.
The following tips can help you prevent walking pneumonia:
The outlook for most people who have walking pneumonia is good. Many people start to feel better after a few days on antibiotics and rest. However, a cough may continue for weeks or even months.
See a healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t improve after several days of antibiotics. They may prescribe a different antibiotic or encourage you to rest and take medications to help relieve your symptoms.
It’s also important to be safe with your medicines. Take them exactly as prescribed or recommended by a healthcare provider. Ask a provider before you take multiple medications at the same time, especially pain medications.
Walking pneumonia is a milder form of pneumonia.
Their symptoms are similar, but walking pneumonia has a low fever and a cough that doesn’t produce phlegm (dry cough). Pneumonia has a higher fever (101 to 105 degrees F, or 38 to 40 degrees C) and a cough that produces phlegm (wet or productive cough).
If you have pneumonia, you may require several days of bed rest or even hospitalization. Walking pneumonia feels like a bad cold or the flu.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19. It spreads through respiratory droplets in the air and shares many of the same symptoms as walking pneumonia. However, it may also cause muscle and body aches, loss of taste or smell, diarrhea and nausea and vomiting.
Walking pneumonia is also a respiratory illness. However, the most common cause of walking pneumonia is a type of bacteria, not a virus.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Walking pneumonia is a common respiratory infection that many people mistake for a bad cold or the flu. Because of this, many people don’t seek treatment. You can manage many of your symptoms with over-the-counter medications, rest and plenty of fluids. Still, it’s a good idea to see a healthcare provider if you have signs of walking pneumonia, even if you think it’s just a cold or the flu. They can prescribe antibiotics that can help speed up your recovery. They can also answer any of your questions or concerns.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/01/2022.
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