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Last updated May 24, 2017, originally published May 5, 2016
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist
"Walking pneumonia" may sound like something you’d encounter in a
sci-fi TV series but it’s actually a common infectious condition – and not
Walking pneumonia is an informal way of describing a mild form of
pneumonia. With walking pneumonia there is no need for
hospitalization and you will probably feel well enough to walk around,
go to school, and work. You may feel like you have a cold. While
walking pneumonia may be mild, it can also make you miserable. Here’s
how to prevent the condition and protect your lungs.
How Does Walking Pneumonia Differ from Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a disease affecting the lungs that arises from a lung
infection caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, infectious agents or
chemicals. It involves inflammation in the air sacs in the lungs.
Pneumonia can be a very serious condition and it is the leading cause of
death in children younger than 5 years of age and over 65 worldwide,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But
walking pneumonia is different.
Walking pneumonia often results from the "Mycoplasma pneumonia"
bacteria and when you suffer from walking pneumonia you are not
generally at risk of death or of hospitalization.
You can get walking pneumonia at any age but it is more common in
adults below the age of 40, and in older children.
What Are the Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia?
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are shared with pneumonia, but are
milder. The main symptom is a cough which comes with very little
mucus, and which is often violent. You may have fever, chills and other
flu-like symptoms, chest pain, a sore throat, headache, and fatigue. A
feeling of weakness may persist even when the cough and other
symptoms have passed.
What Is the Treatment for Walking Pneumonia?
In many cases the condition is not treated because people are unaware
they have it, and do not visit their doctor. But when it is, walking
pneumonia is normally treated with antibiotics. Without antibiotics,
walking pneumonia can become lodged more deeply in your lungs and
can even lead to death.
Rest, plenty of fluids and a healthy diet are also suggested.
How Can Walking Pneumonia be Prevented?
When it comes to preventing the condition, the key thing to remember
about walking pneumonia is it is contagious. It is passed on when
someone comes into contact with the droplets from the mouth or nose
of someone with walking pneumonia. Sneezes and coughs are common
transmission methods. You therefore cannot prevent walking
pneumonia entirely except by avoiding people 100% of the time, but
you can reduce your chances of picking up the condition.
Living healthily by exercising, eating well, and resting well help to keep
your immune system healthy and helps to prevent infection. You should
also wash your hands often as it is the best way to prevent germs
spreading. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and ask
others to do the same. And since smoking damages your lungs and
makes them more vulnerable to infection, stop smoking to reduce your
chances of getting walking pneumonia.
We looked at recent scientific studies to find more ways to prevent
walking pneumonia and keep your lungs healthy.
1. Treat Sleep Apnea to Help Prevent Walking Pneumonia
If you suffer from sleep apnea, where your upper airway is obstructed
when you sleep, you have a higher risk of suffering pneumonia,
according to a 2014 study from Taipei Veterans General Hospital in
The study looked at more than 34,000 people on the National Health
Insurance Research Database and found that sleep apnea appeared to
be an independent risk factor for pneumonia, including walking
It could be because people with sleep apnea are more likely to aspirate
liquid into the lungs from the throat, or that they have a generally
weakened immune system due to less sleep.
2. Vaccines Can Prevent Walking Pneumonia
Vaccines developed to prevent more serious forms of pneumonia can
also help to prevent cases of walking pneumonia, 2014 research from
the University of Iowa has shown.
In this study researchers show how a new vaccine targets three toxins
made by the staph bacteria as it causes pneumonia infection. In the
study the vaccine completely protected animals that were infected with
In other studies other forms of pneumonia like walking pneumonia are
also shown to be prevented by vaccination.
3. Lower Blood Sugar Levels to Help Prevent Complications from
People with high blood sugar levels on admission to hospital were more
likely to die from community acquired pneumonia than people with
normal glucose levels, according to a 2012 study from the University
Hospital of Saarland in Germany.
In the study hyperglycemia --- super high blood sugar levels --- was
linked with increased mortality at 28 days and 90 days.
While this study looked at hospitalizations from pneumonia, walking
pneumonia is also more likely to be problematic with higher blood
sugar levels. Eating a healthy diet and keeping glucose levels in check
helps to strengthen the immune system which protects against walking
4. Stomach Acid Medications are Linked with Risk of Pneumonia
Do you have heart burn? Taking common drugs to treat acid reflux,
dyspepsia, and peptic ulcer disease could increase your risk of
pneumonia, according to 2010 research from Seoul National University
Hospital, South Korea.
Acid suppressive drugs are some of the most popular medications in
the country, but researchers found that one in every 200 people taking
acid suppressive medication contracted pneumonia. If you are at
increased risk of walking pneumonia or pneumonia, the researchers
caution against the use of these drugs.
5. Avoid Engine Exhaust Fumes to Prevent Walking Pneumonia?
A 2008 study by Dr. E G Knox published in the Journal of Epidemiology
and Community Health found that excess pneumonia deaths are linked
to exposure to engine exhaust fumes in research that took place in
Dr. Knox stated that there was a strong and independent link between
emissions and pneumonia deaths. Further research into the effects of
emissions on walking pneumonia would be helpful in expanding on this
6. Vitamin E Can Help Protect You from Walking Pneumonia
Vitamin E apparently helps to protect the lungs against pneumonia, at
least one study has found.
In 2004 research from the University of Helsinki in Finland, vitamin E
and beta carotene supplementation reduced hospital-treated
pneumonia incidence in male smokers.
In the study researchers looked at men aged between 50 and 59 who
smoked at least five cigarettes a day. In men who had started smoking
at a later age (over the age of 21), supplementation with vitamin E
reduced the risk of pneumonia.
Almonds are one food that is rich in Vitamin E and easy to keep handy
as a snack.
7. Good Bacteria Can Help Protect Against Walking Pneumonia
Harmless bacteria found on the nose and skin may help offer protection
against a pathogen that causes walking pneumonia, according to a
2016 study from the Forsyth Institute.
"Corynebacterium accolens", a type of good bacteria, helps to inhibit
Streptococcus pneumoniae which is a leading cause of pneumonia
Further research is needed to find out what role these types of good
bacteria may play in preventing outbreaks of pneumonia and walking
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