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Walking Pneumonia

CAUSES | SYMPTOMS | DIAGNOSIS | TREATMENT

Walking pneumonia is a form of atypical pneumonia that is not serious enough to render the patient bedridden or to be admitted in the hospital. Walking pneumonia is caused by Mycoplasma pneomoniae, a microscopic organism related to the bacteria family. Also known as mycoplasma pneumonia or atypical pneumonia, the term walking pneumonia describes a mild lung infection brought on by mycoplasma pneumonia.

What distinguishes walking pneumonia from other kinds of pneumonia is that it is much less severe than the regular pneumonia and the infected person does not feel sick enough to be disrupted from normal movements and activities. Often the infection can be cured by the body’s healthy immune system without requiring any treatment.

Still it is certainly advisable to consult a doctor as the symptoms of mycoplasma pneumonia can be quite uncomfortable and the disease should not be taken lightly as it is contagious. Negligence could lead to serious consequences and therefore it should be promptly treated. It must be kept in mind that walking pneumonia is contagious and can easily be transferred in the form of airborne droplets while coughing, sneezing, laughing or even speaking.

Walking pneumonia is very common between the ages of 5 and 15 and accounts for 70% of pneumonias in children aged 9 to 15. The onset of the infection is gradual and the symptoms are so mild and barely noticeable that the child does not feel like staying in bed. A slight fatigue, runny nose, head ache and sore throat are the first signs of mycoplasma pneumonia. Unlike the common cold that subsides within a week, this disease worsens over two weeks with the patient developing a moist cough and hoarseness as the infection settles into the lungs.

Before the development of antibiotics and modern methods of treatment, pneumonia was often a fatal disease. Today, most commonly acquired pneumonias are quite easily treatable. Many of the patients with pneumonia are treated by their own family practitioner and do not need to be hospitalized. This is the normal case with persons having walking pneumonia as they are mobile and active despite being sick.

The term ‘walking pneumonia’ has been coined as it refers to a mild form of pneumonia which allows the patient to ‘walk around’ despite being infected with the disease. The term ‘double pneumonia’ means that the infection has spread to both the lungs but you don’t really need to worry as it certainly does not mean that you are twice as sick. It is quite common for pneumonia to affect both the lungs and can be cured with the correct course of treatment.

Walking pneumonia is also quite common in the teens and is different from the typical pneumonia. Caused by a tiny microorganism called mycoplasma, it can, just like the typical bacterial pneumonia, be quite easily treated with antibiotics. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics and need a different course of treatment.

Mycoplasma, unlike viruses, can reproduce outside of living cells and are the smallest of free living organisms. They thrive as parasites on human, animal and bird hosts. Mycoplasma is often found on mucous membranes and can cause disease in humans.

Walking pneumonia is diagnosed by a thorough physical examination. The doctor will check the patient’s breathing and look out for a characteristic throaty sound which is a strong indication of walking pneumonia. In case the disease is suspected, a chest x ray would be recommended and a blood test or a bacterial culture from the throat or nose would be taken to confirm the diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, the infected person must strictly follow the prescribed medication. After the incubation time of 1 or 2 weeks, the recovery could take another week if the patient is on the correct medication. Traditional pneumonia takes around 4 weeks for complete recovery.

Walking Pneumonia Causes

Mycoplasma pneumonia is a microscopic organism that causes walking pneumonia. The disease is contagious and can be transmitted through prolonged contact with an infected individual. The mode of transmission of walking pneumonia is through airborne droplets, which are expelled out of an infected person as he talks, sneezes, laughs or coughs.

Mycoplasma infections are sporadic and are prevalent throughout the year. Mycoplasma infections are common during late summer and fall. Though contagious in nature, Mycoplasma infections are spread slowly in families, schools, and institutions. The ability of an infected person to transmit the disease to a healthy individual is at its peak during the first 20 days of infection.

Pneumonia that is caused by a cold or flu is called ‘walking pneumonia’. Pneumonia can lead to symptoms like bad coughing bouts, chills and high fever. If for any reason, your body is immuno-compromised, this type of pneumonia can also pose a serious threat to your life.

Mycoplasma pneumonia affects mainly older children and young adults. Mycoplasma infections occur in widespread community at an interval of 4 to 8 years. Mycoplasma pneumonia is usually mild and does not need hospitalization. It is proven that the transmission of walking pneumonia occurs through prolonged close contact with the infected person. Therefore, most of the transmission may occur within families. However, Mycoplasma pneumonia epidemics may occur every 4 to 5 years and they may involve 50% of the total pneumonia cases.

People that are at high risk of mycoplasma pneumonia contraction are the ones living or working in crowded areas such as orphanages and schools. There might no identifiable risk factor, in most cases of mycoplasma pneumonia infections.

Despite being mild in nature, walking pneumonia infected person may take almost six weeks to recover, even with the help of antibiotics. Walking pneumonia is a complication of flu. One of the important things you can do for your health as well as for others is to get a flu shot. This flu shot will make you immune to walking pneumonia for at least six months. A flu shot also protects you from some forms of influenza that are prevalent in winter. True but sad, a flu shot would not protect you from all forms of influenza or the types that causes respiratory tract infections.

Walking pneumonia is usually a milder manifestation of pneumonia. Although, walking pneumonia is mainly caused by mycoplasma, some atypical bacteria, viruses, or fungi can also cause this disease. Each of these infectious microbial agents has the capability to cause a potentially fatal pneumonia.

The other causes of pneumonia are as follows:

  • Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) is a fungal infections that is common in people with AIDS
  • Pneumonitis – inflammation of the lungs caused by constant inhalation of irritants like chemicals, food, liquids or foreign objects. This can lead to infectious pneumonia.

Running nose is quite a prominent sign and the other symptoms associated with walking pneumonia are cough, fever, body ache and headache. Coughing is usually violent but dry, expelling only a small amount of white mucus. The early symptoms are chills and fever that are followed by nausea and vomiting. Antibiotics (Read about “Antibiotics”) prescribed by the doctor may be used to treat mycoplasma pneumonia.

Walking Pneumonia Symptoms

The initial symptoms of pneumonia are quite similar to the common cold and to other respiratory viral infections. They include sore throats, blocked nose, chills, head ache and fatigue. The main difference between the two is that common cold subsides after a week and the symptoms of walking pneumonia worsen over a period of two weeks with the infected person developing a strong wet or dry cough. The coughing makes sleeping at night very difficult.

The primary symptoms of walking pneumonia are fever, chills, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. The patient often coughs up sputum usually consisting of saliva, mucus, dead cells, and other materials that may be streaked with pus or blood. More severe cases could develop a rash, respiratory problems or a lump in the neck area. In the severest cases, a patient shows signs of cyanosis. Cyanosis occurs when a patient’s blood is getting insufficient oxygen. It manifests itself in the form of a bluish tinge to the lips and the nails.

Following are the main symptoms of walking pneumonia:

  • Moderate to severe cough – often with a throaty sound.
  • Sustained rapid or labored, strained breathing (to be distinguished from temporary rapid breathing caused by high fever).
  • Medium to high fever – generally above 102 F but not always.
  • Chest pains – during coughing and in between bouts of coughing.
  • Vomiting – during and in between bouts of coughing.
  • Bluish tinge to lips and face – from lack of oxygen.
  • Wheezing – which is often a sign of a viral cold could also be a symptom of pneumonia.

It is best to seek medical treatment if you suspect that your symptoms are more serious from those of a cold or flu. If you are diagnosed with walking pneumonia, your chances of getting hospitalized are negligible. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics to relieve you of your infection. It is important to take adequate rest and stay away from people as much as possible so that you do not spread the infection. Washing hands frequently and following good hygiene methods will improve your immunity and resistance to the disease.

Walking Pneumonia Diagnosis

A diagnosis of walking pneumonia involves detecting bacteria by carrying out tests like chest X-ray to examine the presence of sputum and blood test that detects the bacteria by Mycoplasma complement fixations and cold agglutinins.

When the physicians diagnose patients with walking pneumonia, they refer to an infection that is caused by an organism called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. These bacteria are the smallest self-replicating biologic systems known. Mycoplasmas cause respiratory infections in older children and young adults and usually infect the age group between 5 and 15, accounting for 70% of pneumonias in children between 9 to 15 years of age.

The doctor will want to know about your symptoms and get to know your medical history and perform physical examination. Diagnosis of pneumonia is done based on symptoms and physical examination. In addition, to these tests, the physician may also make you undergo the tests mentioned below to confirm his diagnosis.

  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood tests
  • CT scan – a type of x-ray that uses a computer to generate images of the inside of the chest
  • Sputum culture – testing mucus expelled from the lungs by coughing
  • Arterial blood gas – a test that measures oxygen, acid and carbon dioxide in the blood
  • Bronchoscopy – direct examination of airways/air passages
  • Pulse oximetry – a test that measures the level of oxygen in the blood

Walking Pneumonia Treatment

Erythromycin is the antibiotic most often used. Other antibiotics that can also be used include Doxycycline, Azithromycin, Clarithromycin, or Ciprofloxacin.

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infection. Though bacteria primarily cause pneumonia, viruses are sometimes responsible for causing pneumonia in a person. In such cases, antibiotics will not help in treating the disease. The best person to determine whether the pneumonia is bacterial or viral is your doctor.The most preferred antibiotic is Erythromycin. The other antibiotics that are also used in the treatment of walking pneumonia are Doxycycline, Azithromycin, Clarithromycin, or Ciprofloxacin.
  • Chest pounding (percussion) therapy – This therapy is very important in treating pneumonia. If your child is suffering from pneumonia, this is what you need to do.
    • Take your child to the bathroom with hot shower, 4-6 times in a day
    • Cup your hands and firmly clap on the child chest, concentrating on the area where the pneumonia is.
    • Start pounding rapidly for one minute. Rest for a minute and continue again on and off for ten minutes.

    This pounding process will loosen the mucus and the pus pockets that will instigate your child to cough. If he does not cough, encourage coughing to loosen and expel the mucus out.

  • Cough medicine Suppressing cough during the day is not recommended. Make sure that your child coughs it up. An expectorant can be used during the day, in consultation with your doctor, to loosen the mucus that is stuck in the chest. However, if your child is suffering from severe bouts of cough, give him a combination of expectorant and a cough suppressant. If the cough is tolerable, don’t use a suppressant.

The elderly people with medical conditions and people who have difficulty in breathing are usually treated for pneumonia in hospitals. The most common treatment is antibiotics, usually administered intravenously, oxygen therapy, and intravenous fluids. If the condition of the patient is not critical, they can be treated at home with oral antibiotics. The type of antibiotic your doctor prescribes depends upon the type of pneumonia you have.

Complete bed rest and plenty of fluids are recommended for all pneumonia patients. Drinking warm fluids will enable thin secretions in the lungs so that it is easier to cough them up. Use of humidifier will keep the air you breathe moist. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the fever and pain associated with pneumonia.

Never give aspirin to a child. It can cause a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. Most people recover completely from pneumonia, however, some people with underlying medical problem, very young or very old, are more likely to develop complications despite the treatment.