Most of us only know about one type of pneumonia — the one that hospitalizes about 1 million people every year. However, there’s another kind called walking pneumonia, whose symptoms are very similar to the common cold or flu.
About two million people in the US catch walking pneumonia every year. Most think it’s a bad cold and go about life as usual, assuming the symptoms will pass. That’s how the disease got its name!
While walking pneumonia isn’t severe enough to knock you off your feet, it’s quite contagious. It spreads easily in crowded areas such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Even worse, while it can take two weeks for the symptoms to show up, you’re still contagious during the two-week incubation period.
How Can You Tell It’s Pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia is particularly hard to diagnose. What differentiates it from a bad cold is the duration and severity of the symptoms.
With pneumonia, the cough is worse, fevers are 102 or higher, shivers are accompanied by teeth chattering, and the mucus is rusty or green with specks of blood. Most people experience a sharp pain in the chest that’s made worse by deep breaths. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, nausea, diarrhea, and confusion, especially in older people.
If any of the above symptoms persist for more than 3-5 days, see a doctor as soon as possible. Keep in mind that pneumonia can get worse really fast, especially in kids.
How is it Diagnosed and Treated?
Your doctor will ask questions to determine if you’ve been exposed to pneumococcal bacteria, will listen to your lungs, and order tests to confirm the diagnosis. If you have bacterial pneumonia, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. However, if it’s viral, the doctor can only prescribe symptom-relieving medication and lots of rest.
Walking pneumonia sometimes goes away on its own if you have a strong immune system, but it’s not a good idea to wait it out; seek medical attention.
How to Prevent Walking Pneumonia
First, make sure to get your annual flu shot. A bad case of the flu can usher in other infections, so flu prevention is a good place to start.
Second, get the pneumococcal vaccine. There are two kinds available for different age groups; ask your doctor which one is best for you.
Sometimes, a cold is not just a cold, so always pay attention to the duration and severity of the symptoms. If the symptoms keep getting worse and refuse to resolve on their own within a reasonable time frame, see a doctor. Like mom always said, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Photo by David Mao on Unsplash