The terms “walking pneumonia” and “pneumonia” are sometimes used interchangeably, but the two conditions are not quite the same.
“Walking pneumonia” is a colloquial term used to describe milder cases of pneumonia. Also known as atypical pneumonia, walking pneumonia usually does not cause the symptoms of high fever and productive cough that often characterize pneumonia.
Nevertheless, walking pneumonia should not be overlooked, as walking pneumonia and pneumonia can lead to serious illness and hospitalization if left untreated.
This article will help you know the differences between the two types of pneumonia.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia and pneumonia are similar but differ in their severity.
Symptoms of pneumonia vary in children, adults and the elderly, but in most cases you will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- high fever
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain on deep inspiration
- Cough (often accompanied by phlegm)
- Night sweats
- Muscle aches
- Rapid breathing and heart rate
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are usually milder than those of pneumonia.
Your symptoms of sore throat, headache, malaise (general feeling of being unwell), and mild fever may be so mild that they may not interrupt your daily routine. But make no mistake: walking pneumonia can make you feel terrible, and the best way to recover is to take care of yourself and treat your symptoms.
The germs that cause walking pneumonia and pneumonia are the same. Viruses, bacteria, or fungi that affect the lungs can trigger either condition, but some pathogens are more common in one than the other.
Here are the most common bacterial causes of walking pneumonia:
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Chlamydia psittaci
- Legionella pneumophila
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
The most common causes of pneumonia are viruses, namely the influenza virus (the flu) and bacteria.
Whether your pneumonia is community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) or hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) largely determines the type of bacteria that will cause your infection.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common bacterial cause of CAP, but other common germs include:
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Gram-negative bacilli
- Staphylococcus aureus
Viruses can also cause CAPs. In fact, a viral infection, like the flu, puts you at a higher risk of getting bacterial pneumonia, which is often more serious than viral. Besides the flu virus, the following viruses can also cause CAP:
- Parainfluenza virus
- echovirus, adenovirus
PAH is mainly caused by bacteria, especially aerobic Gram-negative bacilli, such as:
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Escherichia coli (E.coli)
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
- Acinetobacter species
Walking pneumonia is usually diagnosed by physical examination and does not require the same extensive tests used to diagnose pneumonia.
Your symptoms, combined with crackling or wheezing detected by your provider while listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, are often enough to make a diagnosis. But your healthcare provider may order chest X-rays and/or test samples of your mucus to confirm your diagnosis.
Additionally, these tests can help differentiate pneumonia from walking pneumonia and rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
Walking pneumonia is usually mild and goes away on its own with:
- Increased fluid intake
- The use of over-the-counter (OTC) antipyretics and oral decongestants
Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotics if they believe bacteria is the cause.
The best way to manage your pneumonia is to identify the underlying cause and provide the best medications to eliminate the root cause of your lung infection.
Antibiotics and antifungals are the mainstays of treatment for pneumonia caused by bacteria or fungi, respectively.
Increasing your fluid intake and using cough medicine, decongestants, and fever and pain relievers can also be helpful. However, they should not be used in place of antibiotics or antifungals when bacteria or fungi are the cause.
In prevention, the main objective is to avoid infection by the most common germs in circulation. It is the same to prevent both walking pneumonia and pneumonia.
The best ways to protect yourself are to:
- To get vaccinated: Getting vaccinated strengthens your immune system and increases the body’s ability to fight infection.
- Practice good hygiene: One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to eliminate potentially harmful germs and make sure you don’t pass them on to another person if you come into contact with them. Some useful techniques include washing your hands regularly – with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds – disinfecting high-touch surfaces (with alcohol-based products) and using a Proper sneeze and cough etiquette (i.e. sneeze into a tissue or your elbow sleeve).
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity and diabetes are often linked to overweight and rapid weight gain. These conditions compromise the immune system, making you vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
- Avoid sick people: If possible, avoid sick people. This is even more important for young children and older adults, who are most at risk of getting sick. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible to prevent them from getting sick, especially those in your family or circle of friends who are most likely to get sick.
- Do not smoke or consume alcohol: Chronic smoking and alcohol consumption can compromise the immune system, reducing its ability to defend itself against organisms that make you sick. Most health care providers believe it’s best to avoid these habits altogether, especially if your risk of pneumonia is high.
The terms “walking pneumonia” and “pneumonia” are sometimes used interchangeably, but the two are not quite the same. Walking pneumonia is usually less serious and is often caused by different viruses and bacteria.
A word from Verywell
When people think of pneumonia, the image of a seriously ill person ending up in the hospital comes to mind, but walking pneumonia is very common and probably goes unnoticed due to its mild symptoms, similar to those from the common cold.
Although walking pneumonia rarely causes hospitalization or death in healthy people, it can cause serious complications in young children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people. Even in generally healthy people, the symptoms of walking pneumonia can make you miserable.
So make no mistake, if you experience any of the symptoms associated with pneumonia, seek immediate medical attention so you can speed up your recovery.