During the school year, 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 linger on for longer can sometimes turn into walking pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia, or atypical pneumonia, is a less serious form of the lung infection pneumonia. It's caused by Mycoplasma bacteria, which causes cold-like symptoms in addition to 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 — and usually will feel well enough to go to school. But even a child who feels fine needs to stay at home for a few days until antibiotic treatment kicks in and symptoms improve.
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 have a slow onset tend to be more severe.
Here's what to look for:
Symptoms usually depend on where in the body 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 concentrated in the lower part of the lungs (near the abdomen) may not have breathing problems at all, but may have an upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting.
Walking pneumonia is usually diagnosed through a physical examination. The doctor will monitor your child's breathing and listen for a hallmark crackling sound that often indicates walking pneumonia.
If pneumonia is suspected, a chest X-ray or bacterial culture of mucus from the throat or nose might be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Antibiotics are an effective treatment for walking pneumonia. A 7- 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 quickly.
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 frequently and correctly (for at least 20 seconds, rubbing hands together with soap and warm water).
Don't let your child share drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels, or toothbrushes, and remind everyone to wash their 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.
While recovering from walking pneumonia, your child should drink fluids throughout the day to flush the system and rid the body of toxins (especially if he or she has a fever). Ask the doctor before you use a medicine to treat a cough because cough suppressants stop the lungs from clearing mucus, which may not always be helpful for lung infections like walking pneumonia.
If your child has chest pain, try placing a heating pad or warm compress on the chest area. Take your child's temperature at least once each morning and each evening, and call the doctor if it goes above 102ºF (38.9ºC) in an older infant or child, or above 100.4ºF (38ºC) in an infant under 6 months of age.
With treatment, most types of bacterial pneumonia go away within 1 to 2 weeks. However, walking pneumonia can take up to 4 to 6 weeks to resolve completely.
Reviewed by: Nicole A. Green, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013
|National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) The NHLBI provides the public with educational resources relating to the treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases as well as sleep disorders.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Immunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.|
|Lungs and Respiratory System Each day you breathe about 20,000 times, and by the time you're 70 years old, you'll have taken at least 500 million breaths. Find out more about the lungs and breathing process.|
|Word! Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, usually caused by viruses or bacteria.|
|First Aid: Common Cold Kids can get up to eight colds a year - or more. The common cold sends more kids to the doctor than any other illness.|
|First Aid: Coughing Coughing is a healthy reflex that helps clear the airways. A severe or lingering cough requires medical treatment, but many coughs are caused by viruses that just need to run their course.|
|A to Z: Pneumonia, Mycoplasma Mycoplasma pneumonia, also called walking pneumonia or atypical pneumonia, is a mild lung infection caused by bacteria.|
|Pneumonia Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be caused by different types of germs, most commonly viruses. Read about the characteristics of various types of pneumonia.|
|Lungs and Respiratory System Each day you breathe about 20,000 times. Find out more about the lungs and breathing process.|
|Chilling Out With Colds Cough, sneeze, snort. Those are the sounds of a cold. Find out more about colds in this article for kids.|
|A Kid's Guide to Fever What are fevers? Why do kids get them? Get the facts on temperatures and fevers in this article for kids.|
|Coping With Colds Most teens get between two and four colds each year. Read this article for the facts on chicken soup, cold medicines, and other ways to feel better.|
|Pneumonia Pneumonia is a common lung infection that can usually be treated without a hospital stay.|
|Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection in a person's lungs. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Coughing Coughs are a common symptom, but most aren't a sign of a serious condition. Learn about different coughs, how to help your child feel better, and when to call your doctor.|
|Respiratory Syncytial Virus Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this contagious infection.|
|Common Cold With kids getting up to eight colds a year, this contagious viral infection is the most common infectious disease in the United States and the top reason kids visit the doctor and miss school.|
|X-Ray Exam: Chest A chest X-ray is a safe and painless test that uses a small amount of radiation to take a picture of a person's chest, including the heart, lungs, diaphragm, lymph nodes, upper spine, ribs, collarbone, and breastbone.|
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