Pneumonia and the flu share common symptoms. Being able to distinguish between what is walking pneumonia and what is nothing more than the flu may prevent more serious and potentially life-threatening complications down the road. Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs due to a viral, fungal, parasitic or bacterial infection. The condition can range from mild to life-threatening and is often a complication of an underlying condition, such as the flu.
Pneumonia vs. Walking Pneumonia
A mild case of pneumonia that doesn’t require hospitalization or bed rest is called walking pneumonia. Because it is caused by the mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria, it is also known as mycoplasma pneumonia. Walking pneumonia usually doesn’t prevent you from being able to get around or even work. Because it’s symptoms are mild and usually mimic that of the a severe cold or flu, walking pneumonia is usually not diagnosed unless symptoms get worse.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are usually mild. They can begin 15 to 25 days after exposure to an infected individual, developing over a period of two to four days and lasting anywhere from one to three week. They include chest pain, chills, dry cough, high fever, excessive sweating, headache and sore throat. Other less common symptoms include ear or eye pain, achy muscles and joint stiffness, skin lesion or rash and rapid breathing.
When to Seek Medical Attention
You should get immediate medical attention if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, shaking chills and sweating, pleurisy (chest pain that fluctuates with breathing) and a lasting fever of 102oF. Left untreated, pneumonia can be fatal.
Diagnosing pneumonia involves undergoing a physical examination and chest x-ray to determine if you actually have pnuemonia and not another respiratory condition such as bronchitis. Your doctor may also do a complete blood count (CBC) test; a blood test for mycoplasma antibodies; blood culture; bronchoscopy (a test to view your airways); a open lung biopsy; and a sputum culture to check for mycoplasma bacteria. You may also be asked to submit a urine sample or throat swab.
Treatment and Prognosis
Treatment involves antibiotics such as clarithromycin, azithromycin and erythromycin if pneumonia symptoms are severe. However, with walking pneumonia the symptoms are so mild that the infection often resolves on its own and antibiotics are unnecessary. In some cases antibiotics may be prescribed to speed up recovery, but most people recover completely without them. A person who recovers without the use of antibiotics may still experience a persistent cough and weakness for a three to four weeks.
Who’s At Risk
Certain people are at a higher risk for pneumonia, such as very young children; persons over 65; persons with HIV/AIDS or other immune deficiency diseases; persons with emphysema and other lung diseases; diabetics; persons with heart disease; chemotherapy patients or persons with long-term use of immunosuppressant medications; smokers and alcoholics; persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); persons with long-term exposure to certain pollutants or chemicals; persons who have suffered a traumatic physical injury or have had surgery; persons who are hospitalized in the intensive care unit; and persons of Native American or Native Alaskan ethnicity.
Pneumonia becomes life-threatening when inflammation spreads to the air sacs in your lungs and makes breathing difficult. Bacteria can also get into your bloodstream and spread to other organs. Fluid can also accumulate around your lungs and cause infection. Lung abscesses can develop. If you have COPD, you’re at risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a lung condition that results in dangerously low oxygen levels in the blood.