No one ever wants to hear their doctor say “you have pneumonia”. Because, even though it’s a highly treatable lung infection, it’s still contagious & makes you feel terrible. Plus, it’s possible that it could become potentially life-threatening. Some people attempt to minimize a pneumonia diagnosis by telling others they just have a case of “walking pneumonia”. Because they’re still up & about, doing their usual routine, things must not be too bad, right? But is there really a difference between pneumonia & walking pneumonia? Actually, yes…there is.
In both cases, a bacteria or a virus (or, rarely, a fungus) causes a contagious infection in your lungs that, when you cough or sneeze, can be spread to & inhaled by people around you. Both can produce fever, sore throat, persistent cough, headache, and chest pain. The main difference between them: severity.
Walking pneumonia, which doctors call “atypical pneumonia”, is usually milder than conventional pneumonia. It’s what’s called “self-limiting”, meaning it tends to be mild enough that you might not even know you have it. You end up just brushing off any symptoms as being a simple cold. With conventional pneumonia, though, your fever would be higher & your coughs would produce a good bit of phlegm, since conventional pneumonia generates mucus that fills the air sacs in your lungs. And that can cause an even worse symptom: oxygen not getting into your blood. And it’s at that point, when the pneumonia affects your ability to breathe, that you’ll probably have to spend some time in the hospital.
So, what determines the severity? It all comes down to the source. Walking pneumonia comes from infection by certain pneumoniae bacteria like Mycoplasma or Chlamydophila, while regular pneumonia means you were infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae or viruses. Treatment for either, though, is exactly the same. You either wait it out if it’s viral, or, if it’s bacterial, you take antibiotics. What’s odd, though, is that walking pneumonia tends to be a bit more persistent, taking several weeks to fully recover from, as opposed to the recovery period for conventional pneumonia usually only taking about a week or so.
The best way to deal with either? Do everything you can to avoid getting them. The old saying is very true: “And ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
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