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What is walking pneumonia?

Last Modified: August 14, 2023

Family Medicine


Have you ever heard the term “walking pneumonia”? It’s a commonly used non-medical term for a mild case of pneumonia. Let’s take a look at what this illness really is and how to care for yourself in the event that you contract it.

Mycoplasma pneumonia

The technical term for walking pneumonia is atypical pneumonia or Mycoplasma pneumonia. It’s a lung infection caused by a bacteria-like organism (Mycoplasma pneumoniae). This is a common form of pneumonia and is usually mild and feels like a chest cold, but it can get worse. The symptoms of cough, headache, low fever and lack of energy start slowly. Often, the infection is so mild that you may walk around with it without knowing that you have it, hence the term walking pneumonia.

Walking pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics and most people will recover fine at home without having to be hospitalized. Your cough may last for 2-3 weeks after the infection has been treated and you may have some wheezing as well. These symptoms will go away over time.

How can you care for yourself when you have walking pneumonia?

If you are diagnosed with walking pneumonia, be sure to stay on top of your medication and your symptoms so you can get to feeling better. Here are a few ways to take care of yourself.

  • Be safe with medicines and take them exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or naproxen (Aleve®). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless your doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen can be harmful.
  • Take care of your cough so you can rest. A cough that brings up mucus from your lungs is common with pneumonia. It is one way your body gets rid of the infection. But if coughing keeps you from resting or causes severe fatigue and chest-wall pain, talk to your doctor. They may suggest that you take a medicine to reduce the cough.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you.

Walking pneumonia: When to call

Call 911 if you have severe trouble breathing or anytime you think you may need emergency care.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You cough up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).
  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Call your doctor during business hours if you notice:

  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • Your cough or wheezing has not gone away after 2 to 4 weeks.
  • You are not getting better as expected.








Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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