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Walking Pneumonia In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Walking pneumonia, also known as Mycoplasma pneumonia or atypical pneumonia, is a common lung infection found in children. Unlike other forms of pneumonia, this is mild, and the infected person may not require hospitalization, which is why the name “walking pneumonia.”

The symptoms of walking pneumonia are mistaken for the common cold and are often left unnoticed or misdiagnosed. If your child has been suffering from a runny nose and cough for quite some time, it could be walking pneumonia.

Read this post, as we give you valuable information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for walking pneumonia in kids.

What Causes Walking Pneumonia, And Is It Contagious?

Walking pneumonia is caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a bacterium that damages the lining of the respiratory system. Studies have found walking pneumonia to be a cyclic epidemic occurring every three to seven years. In Korea, it is known to occur in three- to four-year cycles (1).

Walking pneumonia is contagious and passes from one person to another through respiratory droplets. When the infected person sneezes or coughs, the bacteria are released into the air through the nasal secretions or sputum. When another person breathes in these droplets, they would get infected.

Generally, the infection spreads among people living in proximity, so walking pneumonia outbreaks are common in schools (2).

Who Is At Risk?

Children who live in crowded places or areas with air pollution or those exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke are at a higher risk of developing walking pneumonia. Also, children recovering from a respiratory illness, such as asthma, allergies, or those who have a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing walking pneumonia.

Symptoms Of Walking Pneumonia In Children

The symptoms usually appear one to four weeks after the child gets infected. The symptoms can be grouped into tracheobronchitis (chest cold) and pneumonia (3).

Symptoms of chest cold include

Symptoms of pneumonia include

  • Cough with mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills

Children below five years can show different symptoms than older children. These symptoms are generally cold-like and might include

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If your child is suffering from cold-like symptoms for an extended period, walking pneumonia could be suspected. Take them to the pediatrician, as walking pneumonia can cause complications in some children.

Complications Of Walking Pneumonia

Usually, the complications of walking pneumonia are mild. However, in rare cases, it can cause severe forms of the following complications (4).

  • Severe pneumonia
  • Asthma symptoms or attacks
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Kidney problems
  • Skin disorders such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, erythema multiforme, toxic epidermal necrolysis

Diagnosis Of Walking Pneumonia

Your doctor might do a physical examination of your child and ask you about the symptoms observed. They may recommend blood tests to determine the lack of immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies. Sometimes, chest X-rays may also be recommended to find out the extent of infection (1).

When To See The Doctor?

Walking pneumonia in children can pose certain risks if not diagnosed early. Consult your doctor if you notice the below signs in your child.

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • If the symptoms do not improve

Next, let us look at the treatment options for walking pneumonia.

Treatment For Walking Pneumonia

According to studies, walking pneumonia generally resolves within seven to ten days from the onset of symptoms. Antibiotic treatment may help in relieving the symptoms. Early administration of antibiotics increases the positive outcome, and delayed treatment increases the severity of walking pneumonia (5).

So, your child’s doctor might prescribe antibiotics and recommend fever and cough medications to relieve the symptoms.

During recovery, you may follow these home-care tips to keep your child comfortable.

  • Instruct your child to stay at home and take rest until the symptoms show improvement.
  • If they have a fever, give them plenty of fluids.
  • Place a warm heating pad or a warm compress on the chest to relieve the nasal and chest congestion.
  • You can also keep a humidifier in your child’s room to alleviate breathing difficulties, if any.

Prevention Of Walking Pneumonia

Prevention is always better than cure. This is true in the case of walking pneumonia, which could appear in three- to four-year circles, and as there is no vaccination against Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Take these precautions to keep your child protected from walking pneumonia.

  • Keep the children away from people who show symptoms of cold or flu.
  • Give them nutritious foods rich in vitamin B6, E, and C as this helps boost immunity.

Walking pneumonia is a mild form of pneumonia and can be cured with adequate rest and antibiotics. However, the recovery rate depends on early diagnosis and timely treatment. So, monitor your child’s health during the flu season and take them to the doctor if you notice any symptoms.

References:

1. You-Sook Youn and Kyung-Yil Lee; Mycoplasma pneumoniae pneumonia in children; Korean Journal of Pediatrics (2012).
2. Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infections – Causes and How It Spreads; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infections – Signs and Symptoms; Mycoplasma pneumonia infections; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infections – Treatment and Complications; Mycoplasma pneumonia infections; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Bharat Bajantri, et al.; Mycoplasma Pneumoniae Pneumonia: Walking Pneumonia Can Cripple the Susceptible; Journal of Clinical Medicine Research (2018)

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