Although it sounds like something out of a horror film, walking pneumonia (also called atypical pneumonia) is actually the least scary kind of pneumonia. It can be milder than the other types, and you usually don’t have to stay in the hospital. What’s more surprising is that you could have walking pneumonia and not even know it.
Walking pneumonia is not like more serious cases. This is why some doctors might call it atypical. It might feel like a cold, but it isn’t.
Oftentimes, a lung infection is to blame, but a lot of things can cause it. Some causes include:
- Inhaled food
A bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumoniae usually causes walking pneumonia. If you have this condition, you might not have to stay in a hospital or in bed. You can still go about your regular routine the way you would with a cold.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get atypical pneumonia. However, walking pneumonia from mycoplasma is most common in children, military recruits, and adults younger than 40.
The people who may likely have more exposure to it include people who live and work in crowded places — such as schools, dorms, military barracks, and nursing homes. Also, infections can happen throughout the year.
Is it contagious?
Yes. Walking pneumonia spreads through sneezes or coughs. But it spreads slowly. If you get it, you could be contagious for up to 10 days. This means that, during this period, you could spread it to other people.
Researchers think it takes a lot of close contact with an infected person for you to develop walking pneumonia. Still, there are widespread outbreaks every four to eight years.
Symptoms generally start 15 to 25 days after you’re exposed to mycoplasma and slowly worsen over two to four days. You might experience the following:
- Chest pain when you take deep breaths in
- Cough that may come in violent spasms
- Mild flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills
- Sore throat
- Lingering weakness
- Possibly also an ear infection, anaemia, or a skin rash.
After your doctor talks with you and conducts a physical examination of you, they will make the diagnosis. Tell your doctor all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing and for how long. They may also ask where you work and whether anyone at home or at work is also sick.
You doctor will listen to your chest with a stethoscope. They may also ask you to get a chest X-ray and a blood test. There is a blood test that can identify a mycoplasma infection. You probably won’t get that test though, unless there is a widespread outbreak in your area.
Another blood test can find an increase in certain immune substances called cold agglutinins. This test won’t confirm that you have walking pneumonia, but it can suggest it.
Many over-the-counter medicines used for colds and the flu may not relieve all of your symptoms. Your doctor will, however, decide if you need antibiotics. With them, you should begin to feel better within a few days.
Tell your doctor about any medicines you take or plan to take. Also, drink plenty of fluids and give yourself lots of time to rest.
If you’re wondering if you can get walking pneumonia more than once, the answer is yes. After your first experience with it, you might have some immunity for a while. Furthermore, recurrent cases will be milder than the first time.
There is no vaccine for mycoplasma infections, so you can’t completely prevent it. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting it:
- Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and get enough sleep. Doing these things will help keep your body healthy and better able to resist infection.
- Wash your hands often. It’s one of the best ways to prevent germs from spreading.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking damages the lungs, and damaged lungs are more likely to get infected.
- Cover your mouth with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. And ask others to do the same. Coughing and sneezing are the main ways that these infections are spread.
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