What Is Mycoplasma Pneumonia?

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A lot of people think you have to be older or in the hospital to get pneumonia. However, pneumonia can happen to anyone at any age. Mycoplasma pneumonia is more widely known as walking pneumonia. Researchers believe this common bacterial infection affects 2 million people every year.

While walking pneumonia is one of the most contagious forms of pneumonia, it also tends to be the mildest form. However, this doesn’t make it less serious than other cases of pneumonia. While it can start out as walking pneumonia, it can turn into a more severe form of pneumonia if not treated properly.

This article covers the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mycoplasma pneumonia (walking pneumonia).

A woman holding a polka dot umbrella is holding a tissue to her nose.

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What Is Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia is a lung infection. It is often milder than other forms of pneumonia. Walking pneumonia can be so mild that you can go about your daily activities only feeling like you've come down with a bad cold or have a cold you just can't shake.

Why Is It Called "Walking Pneumonia"?

Since many people feel well enough to be up and walking around, the term walking pneumonia is often used. 

Symptoms

Walking pneumonia may come on slowly, or it may hit you immediately.

Common symptoms of walking pneumonia include:

  • Sore throat
  • Low fever
  • Chills
  • Feeling weak
  • Feeling restless
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble feeding (in babies)

Risk Factors

All forms of pneumonia come with almost identical risk factors, which are outlined below.

Age

While walking pneumonia can happen to anyone at any age, it is more common in those less than 40 years old—especially children and those living in community settings such as dorms or military barracks. 

Infection

If you are sick with another infection, your body will be busy fighting the infection and may not have the resources to protect you from mycoplasma pneumonia. 

Chronic Illness 

Those who suffer from other illnesses such as asthma, cancer, cystic fibrosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more likely to catch pneumonia of any type. 

Medication

Using immunosuppressant medications for extended periods of time increases your risk of catching many different types of colds, cases of flu, and pneumonia. 

Diagnosis

When you see your healthcare provider, they will want to know about your symptoms and how long you’ve experienced them. They will listen to your lungs for unusual sounds, such as a rattling or wheezing sound, using a stethoscope. You also will likely have an X-ray done. 

For most people, having a formal lab test checking for the mycoplasma pneumonia bacteria is overkill. Confirming that your symptoms are caused by a specific bacterium doesn’t drastically change treatment in any way. 

In general, if you’re able to complete treatment at home, most testing is not necessary. 

Treatment

Treatment for pneumonia depends on a wide variety of factors. Some people can treat their pneumonia at home, while others need hospital treatment. Although, with walking pneumonia, hospitalization is not likely. 

Since walking pneumonia comes from bacteria and not a virus, the infection can be treated with antibiotics. Most people start to feel better about two days after starting their antibiotics. However, it’s crucial to finish the entire course of antibiotics unless your healthcare provider instructs otherwise. You may also consider taking Tylenol or ibuprofen to help with any fevers you experience.

Cough Medicine

When you have a cough, taking cough medicine feels like an obvious addition. However, when it comes to pneumonia, cough medicine can do more harm than good since coughing is important for removing mucus from your lungs. This is why doctors won’t recommend taking cough medicine around the clock. However, it’s OK to take cough medicine so you can sleep well.

While recovering from any form of pneumonia, it’s vital to get plenty of rest. Keep in mind that resting does not mean sleeping all day—unless you want to. During the initial week of recovery, rest is about taking it easy.

This isn’t the time to deep-clean the house, organize a closet, or pull weeds. Instead, opt for taking naps when you’re feeling exhausted, watching TV, working on a puzzle, reading a good book, or doing anything else that doesn’t cause you to breathe heavily or deeper. 

Prevention

Mycoplasma pneumonia is easily transferred from one person to another when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes. Coughing and sneezing allow tiny droplets to carry the bacteria through the air. When the next person breathes in these small droplets, the bacteria begin to replicate and infect the body.

While there is no vaccine to protect you from getting walking pneumonia, there are some steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming infected or spreading your infection to others, including:

  • Wash your hands frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Use a face mask if you'll be in contact with someone who is infected.
  • Exercise, get adequate sleep, and maintain a healthy diet (these steps are vital in preventing many infections, not just pneumonia).
  • Avoid smoking, as this damages the lungs.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of walking pneumonia to someone else.
  • If possible, avoid contact with someone who is currently battling a case of walking pneumonia.

Summary

Mycoplasma pneumonia is often referred to as community-acquired pneumonia and more widely known as walking pneumonia. While it is a less severe form of pneumonia, it's important to take care of yourself so it does not turn into a more serious illness.

A Word From Verywell

As with all forms of pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia can be potentially dangerous if ignored. It's essential to rest, take care of yourself, and allow your body to heal and your immune system to strengthen. If you feel like you're not getting better or possibly getting worse, please contact your healthcare provider immediately.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Atypical (walking) pneumonia. Updated September 10, 2019.

  2. MedlinePlus, Community-acquired pneumonia in adults. Updated May 25, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mycoplasma pneumoniae treatment and complications. Updated April 8, 2021.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mycoplasma pneumoniae causes and transmission. Updated April 8, 2021.