What is Walking Pneumonia? - Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
The term Walking Pneumonia seems like a contradiction, but it is indeed an actual malady! In this lesson you will learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments of walking pneumonia.

A Tale of Two Pneumonias

Common Clara wakes up feeling under the weather. Over the course of a few days she has developed a severe cough and a high fever. She is exhausted, but goes to the doctor and is told she has pneumonia. She starts an antibiotic routine and lies in her bed, too tired to do anything.

Down the street, Atypical Abigail has a scratchy throat and dry cough. For the next two weeks she continues her daily routine, albeit coughing the entire time. Finally, she goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with pneumonia. She is prescribed an antibiotic, which she starts taking. Shortly thereafter the cough resolves and she feels like herself again.

You might be re-reading those two paragraphs and thinking 'They cannot both have pneumonia!' In fact, Clara and Abigail are both pneumonia patients. However, each has been invaded by a different germ. Common Clara is suffering from the most common form of bacterial pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumonia.

On the other hand, Atypical Abigail has been infected with an atypical bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumoniae or Chlamydophila pneumoniae. These types of pneumonia most often result in mild symptoms. Let's explore these atypical pneumonias in more detail!

Atypical Pneumonia Terminology

Pneumonias caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae or Chlamydophila pneumoniae fall under the classification of atypical pneumonia because they are less common and lead to unusual symptoms. In the majority of cases these symptoms are fairly mild. People with these infections are still sick, but are able to be up-and-about. And so, the term walking pneumonia evolved to describe these mild pneumonia conditions.

It is important to understand that there is no medical diagnosis of walking pneumonia; rather, it is a layman's term given to any mild form of pneumonia. Also, the terms walking pneumonia and atypical pneumonia are not synonyms! Atypical pneumonias usually result in mild symptoms, but in rare cases they can lead to severe symptoms and hospitalizations. In these instances the pneumonias should no longer be referred to as 'walking pneumonia'.

Okay, it's time to take a closer look at Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae, the symptoms each trigger, and the available treatment.

Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia

The crux of the definition for walking pneumonia is the presence of MILD symptoms. Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae prompt many people to experience symptoms similar to a head-cold with a dry, nagging cough.

The symptoms of walking pneumonia are mild, such as those felt when you have a cold.
Woman blowing her nose

Symptoms include:

  • Prolonged cough
  • Sore throat
  • Laryngitis
  • Ear or sinus infections
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Chest pain from excessive coughing

In general, all of these symptoms last multiple weeks, but are mild. You don't often picture someone with pneumonia going grocery shopping, but for these folks that is possible!

Treatments for Walking Pneumonia

Think back to your friends Common Clara and Atypical Abigail. They both had pneumonia, but now you know they were caused by different types of bacteria. Do you think they will both get the same treatment?

That's a bit of a trick question. Both girls would receive antibiotics. However, they would get different types of antibiotics. Common Clara would get some form of penicillin. But penicillin is about as effective as a sugar pill against atypical bacteria.

The mainstay of treatment for walking pneumonia is antibiotics. However, only certain types of antibiotics are effective against the bacteria causing atypical pneumonia.
Antibiotic image

Pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae respond to different classes of antibiotics. And depending on the age of the patient, only certain types of antibiotics may be used:

  • Macrolide antibiotics, such as azithromycin, may be used in children and adults
  • Tetracycline antibiotics, such as doxycycline, may be used in teenagers and adults
  • Fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, may be used only in adults

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