"Walking pneumonia" is a non-medical term for a mild case of pneumonia. A more medically correct term would be atypical pneumonia and can be caused by certain molds, viruses or bacteria; 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 your daily activities, hence the term "walking."
But don't be fooled. Walking pneumonia can still be miserable and is commonly accompanied by a 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 pneumonia symptoms, even if they are mild, you should discuss with your healthcare provider as soon as possible," says Dr. Albert Rizzo, American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Rizzo notes that walking pneumonia is treatable with antibiotics to help you recover more quickly 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 cough and loosen any mucus (sputum). "In addition, it's important to get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids and take fever-reducing medicine if you have a fever," he adds. Not everyone can take the same over-the-counter medications, so it is important to come up with a treatment plan with your healthcare provider’s input.
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 Dr. Rizzo. "Too slow a pace of recovery or any worsening of symptoms is information you should share with your healthcare provider."
Pneumonia can spread when an infected person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes near you. 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).
- Make sure your pertussis vaccine is up to date (speak with your healthcare provider).
- Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and get adequate sleep.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
- Don't smoke.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to as well to help prevent the spread of these infections.
Blog last updated: October 4, 2023