What is Walking Pneumonia?

The first time many people become aware of the condition called ‘walking pneumonia’ is when they or someone they know is told they have contracted it. So what is walking pneumonia? Is it dangerous? Can others catch it from coming in contact with you?

Pneumonia is an inflammation or infection in the lungs. Some forms of pneumonia can be serious in individuals at risk due to compromised health. Mild forms of pneumonia in otherwise healthy individuals are often successfully treated with oral antibiotics. Mild forms of pneumonia that responds well to oral antibiotic therapy is often called walking pneumonia.

Walking pneumonia in an otherwise healthy individual can run its course and not cause any problems without the bed rest and treatment. Walking pneumonia is actually classified as an atypical pneumonia ( meaning not typical). Unlike the more severe forms of pneumonia that do require hospitalization and aggressive treatment, there is no way to prevent walking pneumonia by getting a vaccination.

Cause of Walking Pneumonia

Walking pneumonia is caused by an organism called mycoplasma pneumoniae. Mycoplasma are the leading cause for respiratory infections in children and young adults. A respiratory infection that continues for an extended period of time may be walking pneumonia. Mycoplasma pneumonia is responsible for over 70% of diagnosed diagnosed cases of pneumonia in children between 9-15 years of age.

Signs & Symptoms

Mycoplasma pneumonia develops slowly, often going unnoticed for 1-3 weeks. Symptoms are often passed off as a typical cold that lingers. Typical symptoms include the following.

  • Lack of energy
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough (which is often worst at night)
  • Fever may or may not be present

Unlike a common cold which gets better in a week to ten days, walking pneumonia generally gets worst over a period of 3 weeks and can linger for a month or more without treatment. Even with treatment, a dry hacking cough may persist until the damaged cells in the lung tissue are repaired. This can last for another 6 weeks after treatment.

How is it Spread?

Walking pneumonia caused by mycoplasma is contagious. Generally it requires close, prolonged contact which is why walking pneumonia is often seen among children. Observing basic health precautions such as covering the nose and mouth with a Kleenex when coughing and sneezing and following good hand washing will go a long way in maintaining your general health. Because coughing is often more frequent at night, children sharing the same bedroom may infect each other.


Most cases of walking pneumonia in otherwise healthy children and young adults will eventually get better without treatment. When there are obvious signs and symptoms treatment is recommended to shorten the time it takes to fully recover.

The antibiotics typically prescribed to infants and children will not work against walking pneumonia. Fortunately with the correct medication, treatment is very effective. With treatment improvement can be expected within a week. The antibiotics effective against mycoplasma include, erythromycin, clarithromycin, and tetracycline.

Even though you or your child may feel much better after a week of taking the prescription antibiotics it is extremely important to take all medications as directed. There is a high possibility the pneumonia will reoccur if antibiotics are taken for less than two full weeks.

Taking over-the-counter medications to treat the symptoms of walking pneumonia is usually not necessary. A cough suppressant at night may be helpful in older children if extended periods of coughing is keeping them awake. The use of antihistamines and cough suppressants in children younger than 5 years of age is not recommended.

Always discuss treatment options with your doctor and be sure he is aware of any over the counter medications in use.


  • What is Walking Pneumonia? DrGreen.Com

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