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Walking Pneumonia: Causes, Diagnosis, and Prevention

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

Walking pneumonia is a form of respiratory infection less alarming than its regular contemporary. But although it sounds harmless, if left unaddressed, you may experience prolonged discomfort that could disrupt your daily routine. Read below to find out how walking pneumonia is acquired, diagnosed, treated, and prevented. 

What Is Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that is less severe than traditional pneumonia. The term walking pneumonia(1) is not a clinical term. Instead, it is rooted in the fact that you can still perform your daily routine, including “walking,” despite having this respiratory infection.

Also called atypical pneumonia, walking pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The infection spreads through respiratory droplets that come from infected people. Symptoms of walking pneumonia range from mild to severe, including cough, fever, sore throat, and fatigue.

Causes of Walking Pneumonia

Unlike regular pneumonia, which is caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, walking pneumonia can be due to several microbes deemed atypical, such as molds, viruses, and less aggressive bacteria. These pathogens can enter the respiratory system through inhaling respiratory droplets or by direct contact with an infected individual.

How to Test for Walking Pneumonia

Like any other infection, it’s best to have your doctor diagnose walking pneumonia instead of relying on your own judgment. Read our guide on the dangers of self-diagnosing online.

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination, mainly listening to your lungs, via a stethoscope to check for abnormal sounds, such as crackling, wheezing, or any abnormality that suggests walking pneumonia. Plus, the doctor will ask about your medical history and any symptoms you may be experiencing.

A chest X-ray may also be ordered to see the image of your lungs. Doing so will allow the doctor to look for signs of infection, such as inflammation or fluid accumulation. This can help rule out other conditions and provide additional evidence to support the diagnosis.

In addition to imaging tests like X-rays, you may have to undergo certain blood tests, especially if the pneumonia aggravates. This is to prevent potential complications that could prolong or extend the symptoms outside respiratory functions. 

One test that often emerges is the complete blood count (CBC), in which the level of microbial infection is detected by evaluating your white blood cells.

Walking Pneumonia Treatment

The prescribed medication(2) for walking pneumonia may vary depending on the particular bacteria causing the infection. It could include antibiotics, such as macrolides or tetracyclines, or antiviral medicines. 

Aside from prescribed and over-the-counter medication, you will also be advised to get enough rest, hydration, and other natural ways to alleviate the condition. If you have a stuffy nose, consider steam inhalation and using a neti pot. Although walking pneumonia will allow you to do your regular activities, you can speed up recovery using these natural remedies. 

How to Prevent Walking Pneumonia

Walking pneumonia can spread all year long and can infect anyone. However, you can protect yourself from acquiring the condition through the following ways. 

  1. Practice good hygiene

You can lessen exposure to the pathogen causing walking pneumonia by washing your hands with water and soap for over 20 seconds. Following this method will help remove any microbe you have come in contact with. If soap and water are unavailable, use a 60% alcohol or disinfectant as an alternative. 

  1. Boost your immune system

Strengthening your immune system allows you to fight infections easily. To do this, make sure you’re not sleep-deprived, and your diet is comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other rich sources of nutrients. You also have to make sure you’re getting regular exercise.

Pro tip: Vitamin C plays a crucial role in boosting your immunity against infections. Check out the list of foods rich in vitamin C and the best way you can include them in your diet. 
  1. Avoid activities detrimental to your respiration

Habits like smoking and overeating can have harmful effects on your respiratory system. Even exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to breathing issues. In some cases, it could trigger severe conditions like cancer. Be more conscious about activities that could have adverse consequences for your health.

Pro tip: Quitting smoking is not an instant transition. There is discomfort and health challenges that come with it, especially if you don’t do it right. Avoid the common mistakes when quitting smoking to ensure you’re doing it the healthy way. 
  1. Be up to date with your vaccinations

For vulnerable populations, vaccinations can offer additional protection against walking pneumonia. 

People over 65, children, and individuals with chronic medical conditions should receive the pneumococcal and influenza vaccines(3). These vaccines can help prevent complications and reduce the severity of respiratory infections.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is walking pneumonia contagious?

While mild, walking pneumonia can be contagious up to 10 days after the infection. Individuals with the condition can transmit the disease through sneezing or coughing. It can also spread when the affected person speaks too closely without proper mouth covering.

How long does walking pneumonia last?

You can have walking pneumonia for one to two weeks. This is the average timeframe with proper medication and home remedies. Factoring in poor immune response and lack of consistent treatment, the condition can last between four to six weeks. If no progress in recovery is shown, make sure to consult your healthcare provider. 

Does walking pneumonia go away on its own?

For light to mild cases, you may not need any antibiotics to treat walking pneumonia. Plus, if you follow your doctor’s strict recommendation to hydrate, secure enough rest, and other natural ways to address walking pneumonia, it could get rid of itself on its own. Talk to your doctor first instead of deciding not to get any medication, as this decision depends on medical evaluation.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the causes of walking pneumonia is essential to take preventive measures and ensure a quicker recovery. Essential steps include practicing good hygiene, keeping a healthy lifestyle, and seeking prompt medical attention when necessary to manage this respiratory infection. If you experience symptoms of walking pneumonia, consult your doctor and focus on treatment.

Sources: 

1 Parrott GL, Kinjo T, Fujita J. A Compendium for Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Front Microbiol. 2016 Apr 12;7:513. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00513. PMID: 27148202; PMCID: PMC4828434.

2 Miyashita N. Atypical pneumonia: Pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Respir Investig. 2022 Jan;60(1):56-67. doi: 10.1016/j.resinv.2021.09.009. Epub 2021 Nov 5. PMID: 34750083.

3 Li Y, Zhang P, An Z, Yue C, Wang Y, Liu Y, Yuan X, Ma Y, Li K, Yin Z, Wang L, Wang H. Effectiveness of influenza and pneumococcal vaccines on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Respirology. 2022 Oct;27(10):844-853. doi: 10.1111/resp.14309. Epub 2022 Jun 15. PMID: 35705329.

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