What Is Walking Pneumonia?

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Walking pneumonia is a less severe form of pneumonia that gets its name from the fact that people with the condition can carry on with some of their usual day-to-day activities while sick.

Like all forms of pneumonia, walking pneumonia is characterized by an inflammation of the airways and the air sacs in your lungs, known as alveoli. However, if you have walking pneumonia, you’ll still feel sick, with symptoms including chills, cough, fever, and shortness of breath. 

Walking pneumonia is a type of atypical pneumonia, which simply means that it’s caused by a less common type of bacteria.

Walking pneumonia is caused by the bacteria mycoplasma pneumoniae and other bacteria and viruses. These bacteria can also cause other mild respiratory infections, like tracheobronchitis, commonly known as a chest cold.

Learn more about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of walking pneumonia.

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Walking Pneumonia Symptoms

The symptoms of walking pneumonia are less severe versions of the symptoms of pneumonia. These include:

  • Cough, which may produce mucus or blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever and chills
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Walking pneumonia is milder than other forms of pneumonia, however it can still be a fairly severe illness. Even if you’re not bedridden, you should try to take it easy to let your body recover from pneumonia. 

For most people, the symptoms of walking pneumonia will begin to subside within five days. However, the cough can last for weeks after you have recovered. As long as your cough isn’t getting worse, you shouldn’t be concerned if it sticks around for a while. 

Causes

Walking pneumonia can be caused by the bacteria mycoplasma pneumoniae or other types of bacteria and viruses. At first, after coming into contact with the bacteria, you might experience the symptoms of a chest cold or respiratory infection. However, with time it can progress to pneumonia. 

Mycoplasma pneumoniae is spread through the air. When a person who is infected with the bacteria coughs or sneezes, they can spread microscopic droplets that contain the virus. If you breathe those in, you may become infected.

Since mycoplasma pneumoniae is spread through close contact, outbreaks in areas where people live together—including dorms, prisons, and nursing homes—can occur.

Diagnosis

Walking pneumonia is diagnosed the same way as other forms of pneumonia: through physical examination and imaging.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of pneumonia, you should see a healthcare provider, who will begin by talking to you about your symptoms and listen to your lungs for signs of fluid buildup. 

The healthcare provider might also use imaging of your lungs—including a chest X-ray—to diagnose pneumonia.

Treatment

Since walking pneumonia is caused by bacteria and viruses, it can be treated with antibiotics. Because of that, you should reach out to a healthcare provider if you believe that you might have walking pneumonia. 

Although antibiotics will help address the infection, you’ll also want to treat your symptoms at home. Follow these pointers for treating your walking pneumonia at home:

  • Take it easy. Getting plenty of rest will help your body to recover. 
  • Drink lots of fluids. Staying hydrated will help keep the mucus in your lungs thin, making it easier to cough up. 
  • Treat your fever. Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help bring your fever down and make you more comfortable. 
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about cough medicine. Coughing can be annoying and uncomfortable, but it’s an important response that helps your body clear fluid or mucus from your lungs. Because of that, your practitioner might want you to forgo cough medicine or use it only at night. 

The Importance of Rest

Remember, although you may not be bedridden with walking pneumonia, it’s still a serious condition. Give yourself time to heal, remembering that the worst symptoms of walking pneumonia can take up to five days to begin letting up. The cough could last even longer, so be patient with your recovery. 

Prognosis

In general, pneumonia is a treatable condition. Walking pneumonia is even more treatable since it’s a mild form of pneumonia. Almost all people with walking pneumonia will make a full recovery, although it can take weeks for a cough to disappear entirely in some cases.

Most people with walking pneumonia begin to feel much better within a week or two. If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take them all, even if your symptoms begin to go away. Finishing the full course of antibiotics will help ensure that your pneumonia doesn’t come back in a more severe form. 

In the meantime, be sure to take it easy and allow yourself the rest your body needs to recover. 

Summary

Walking pneumonia is a common condition that can be spread easily, especially in places like dorms, nursing homes, or schools. If you experience walking pneumonia, you might not feel completely “down and out.” Despite that, it’s important that you rest in order to allow your body to heal.

A Word From Verywell

Although walking pneumonia is not particularly serious, you should still speak with a healthcare provider if you have symptoms. Since walking pneumonia is caused by bacteria and viruses, it can be treated with antibiotics, which only your healthcare provider can prescribe. 

As you recover from walking pneumonia, be sure not to do too much too soon. Although this is a milder form of pneumonia, your body could still need weeks or months to recover entirely.

If your symptoms suddenly get worse or return after being gone, speak with your healthcare provider. Even walking pneumonia can progress into a more severe form of pneumonia that requires more aggressive treatment.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Pneumonia. Updated January 4, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New CDC study highlights burden of pneumonia hospitalizations among US adults. Updated July 14, 2015.

  3. American Lung Association. What is walking pneumonia? Updated February 22, 2017.