It can seem like kids pick up one bug after another. One week it's a runny nose,
the next a sore throat, or both. Most of the time, these bugs only last for about
a week. But those that last longer can sometimes turn into walking pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia, or atypical pneumonia, is a less serious form of the lung infection
caused by Mycoplasma
, and causes cold-like symptoms, a low-grade fever,
and a hacking cough.
Most kids with this form of pneumonia will not feel sick enough to stay at home
— hence, the name "walking" pneumonia. But even a child who feels fine needs
to stay at home for a few days until antibiotic treatment kicks in and symptoms improve.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia?
Colds that last longer than 7 to 10 days or respiratory illnesses like respiratory
syncytial virus (RSV) can develop into walking pneumonia. Symptoms can come on
suddenly or take longer to appear. Those that start slowly tend to be more severe.
Here's what to look for:
a fever of 101°F (38.5°C) or below
headache, chills, sore
throat, and other cold or flu-like symptoms
fast breathing or breathing with grunting or wheezing sounds
labored breathing that makes the rib muscles retract (when muscles under the ribcage
or between ribs draw inward with each breath)
chest pain or stomach pain
malaise (feeling of discomfort)
loss of appetite (in older kids) or poor feeding (in infants)
Symptoms usually depend on where the infection is concentrated. A child whose infection
is in the top or middle part of the lungs will probably have labored breathing. Another
whose infection is in the lower part of the lungs (near the belly) may have no breathing
problems, but may have an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting.
How Is Walking Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Walking pneumonia is usually diagnosed through a physical examination. The doctor
will check your child's breathing and listen for a hallmark crackling sound that often
indicates walking pneumonia.
If needed, a chest
X-ray or tests of mucus samples from the throat or nose might be done to confirm
How Is Walking Pneumonia Treated?
Antibiotics are an effective treatment for walking pneumonia. A 5- to 10-day course
of oral antibiotics is usually recommended. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics,
make sure your child takes them on schedule for as long as directed to recover more
Once on antibiotics, your child has a minimal risk of passing the illness on to
other family members. But encourage everyone in your household to wash
their hands well and often.
Don't let your child share drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels, or toothbrushes.
Wash your hands after touching any used tissues. Also make sure that your kids are
up to date on their immunizations
to help protect them from other infections.
How Can I Help My Child Feel Better?
Your child should drink fluids throughout the day, especially if he or she has
a fever. Ask the doctor before you use a medicine to treat a cough. Cough suppressants
stop the lungs from clearing mucus, which might not be helpful for lung infections
like walking pneumonia.
If your child has chest pain, try placing a heating pad or warm compress on the
area. Take your child's temperature at least once each morning and each evening. Call
the doctor if it goes above 102°F (38.9°C) in an older infant or child, or
above 100.4°F (38°C) in an infant under 6 months of age.
With treatment, most types of bacterial pneumonia go away within 1 to 2 weeks.
Coughing can take up to 4 to 6 weeks to stop.