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How to Tell if You Have Walking Pneumonia

Posted by Lee Bar-Eli, M.D. on Feb 14, 2018, 8:08:00 AM

Pneumonia is a scary word, isn’t it? Patients generally worry when they hear it, and rightfully so, but walking pneumonia doesn’t carry the same concern as pneumonia. In fact, while it’s not fun to have walking pneumonia, it’s certainly a lot easier than trying to recover from pneumonia. 

What Are the Symptoms?

Having walking pneumonia doesn’t really feel that much different than having a really bad cold. In fact, that’s why it’s been colloquially called walking pneumonia – you don’t feel like you need to be at home, so you’re out walking around. The medical term for pneumonia is actually atypical pneumonia. Here are some symptoms to look for if you think you might have walking pneumonia.

  • A persistent dry cough that is sometimes worse at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain that worsens when you cough or take a deep breath
  • Low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite 

Walking pneumonia is also more common in the late summer and fall, but can occur throughout the year. Don’t panic if you think you might have walking pneumonia – remember, walking pneumonia is a much better diagnosis than pneumonia! To be sure, your doctor might take a chest X-ray and blood test. Just make an appointment with your physician and they can rule out something more serious.

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What Causes Walking Pneumonia?

Unlike regular pneumonia, which can be quite severe, walking pneumonia typically doesn’t require bedrest or a hospital stay – though you do have to look after yourself while you have it – more on that later! Walking pneumonia has several causes, but most commonly, it’s caused by bacteria that affects the upper and lower respiratory tract. This type of bacteria is very easily spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing, and it spreads without much trouble in places like dorms, nursing homes, and schools.

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Symptoms can appear anywhere between one and four weeks following exposure. As with many illnesses, people who have weakened immune systems are often more prone to catching walking pneumonia. This means children younger than 2 and adults older than 65 are at a higher risk. Also at a higher risk are people who smoke, those who have used immunosuppressant drugs for a long period of time, people who already have a respiratory condition, or patients who have used inhaled corticosteroids for a long time. Preventing walking pneumonia is very similar to the same things you would do to prevent any cold. Eat healthy meals to boost your immune system, get plenty of sleep, wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water, and cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands. 

How Will My Doctor Treat It?

Because walking pneumonia is most commonly caused by bacteria, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic to treat it if the infection is severe enough. In many cases, your doctor will ask you to keep an eye on symptoms, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. He or she might prescribe something to keep your fever down – but don’t be surprised if that’s all they do. Oftentimes, walking pneumonia clears up on its own. Because very few over-the-counter medications will help with walking pneumonia – in fact, some can even make your symptoms worse – make sure you talk to your doctor before you take anything if you’ve been diagnosed with walking pneumonia. 


Dr. Lee Bar-Eli is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Meyerland Plaza Clinic. Her clinical interests include chronic disease management, women’s health, and adolescent medicine.


Topics: pneumonia, walking pneumonia

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