"Walking pneumonia" is a non-medical term for a mild case of pneumonia. Technically, it's called atypical pneumonia and is caused by bacteria or viruses; often a common bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumonia. Bed rest or hospitalization are usually not needed, and symptoms can be mild enough that you can continue about your daily activities, hence the term "walking."
But don't be fooled. Walking pneumonia can still make you miserable, with cough, fever, chest pain, mild chills, headache, etc. It feels more akin to a bad cold, and despite what the term "walking" implies, taking care of yourself is the best path to recovery.
"If you have the symptoms listed above, even if mild, you should see a doctor as soon as possible," says Dr. Albert Rizzo, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association. Rizzo notes that walking pneumonia is treatable with antibiotics if your doctor believes bacteria to be the cause. Over-the-counter medications can also be used to relieve symptoms, such as antihistamines for nasal congestion or cough medications to help ease the cough and loosen any mucus (sputum). "In addition, it's important to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and take fever-reducing medicine if you have a fever," he adds.
Most people start to feel better within three to five days, but a cough from pneumonia can last weeks or months after treatment. "Recovery time will vary from person to person and will depend on whether you have other medical problems, such as asthma or COPD," says Rizzo. "Too slow of a pace of recovery and certainly any worsening of symptoms is information you should share with your doctor."
Just like typical pneumonia, walking pneumonia spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. To reduce your risk of infection, follow these tips and learn more about avoiding pneumonia:
Get a flu vaccine each year to help prevent getting pneumonia caused by the flu.
Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumonia vaccine (there is no vaccine for viral or mycoplasma pneumonia, but certain individuals should get vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia).
Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and get adequate sleep.
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to as well to help prevent spread of these infections.