Atypical pneumonia

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is atypical pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation of the lungs. Atypical pneumonia is a pneumonia that isn’t caused by the bacteria that causes typical pneumonia. Typical pneumonia tends to be more serious than atypical pneumonia.

This type of pneumonia is also sometimes referred to as “walking pneumonia” because it rarely requires bed rest or hospitalization.

How common is atypical pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia is quite common. About 2 million cases of mycoplasma pneumonia occur in the United States each year. Mycoplasma pneumonia accounts for 1 to 10 cases out of 50 cases of community-acquired pneumonia (pneumonia contracted outside of a health care setting).


What are the symptoms of atypical pneumonia?

The common symptoms of atypical pneumonia are:

  • Chills
  • Cough (with legionella pneumonia, you may cough up bloody mucus)
  • Fever, which may be mild or high
  • Shortness of breath (may only occur when you exert yourself)

Other symptoms include:

  • Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
  • Confusion, most often in older people or those with legionella pneumonia
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
  • Muscle aches and joint stiffness
  • Sweating and clammy skin

Less common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea (often with legionella pneumonia)
  • Ear pain (with mycoplasma pneumonia)
  • Eye pain or soreness (with mycoplasma pneumonia)
  • Neck lump (with mycoplasma pneumonia)
  • Rash (with mycoplasma pneumonia)
  • Sore throat (with mycoplasma pneumonia)

Pneumonia due to mycoplasma and chlamydophila bacteria is usually mild. Pneumonia due to legionella gets worse during the first 4 to 6 days, and then improves over 4 to 5 days.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • You have chest pain when you cough or breathe
  • You become short of breath
  • Your cough is preventing you from sleeping


What causes atypical pneumonia?

Atypical pneumonia is caused by one of three types of bacteria:

  • Legionella pneumophila (L. pneumophila)
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae (M. pneumoniae)
  • Chlamydophila pneumonia (C. pneumoniae)

Mycoplasma pneumonia

Mycoplasma pneumonia tends to affect people under the age of 40. It’s estimated that at least 2 million cases happen every year.

This condition most often occurs in people working or living in heavily populated areas such as schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and group homes. However, many people are diagnosed without any specific risk factors.

Legionella pneumonia

Legionella pneumonia is also known as Legionnaires’ disease. It can occur when you breathe in water vapors infested with L. pneumophila. This bacteria is usually found in the water supply of buildings or cooling towers. It can be much more severe than the other types of walking pneumonia.

Outbreaks of this condition occur when two people get sick and seem to have contracted it from the same place. Local health departments investigate potential outbreaks.

Not everyone who is exposed to the infection becomes sick. Pontiac fever is a less severe infection caused by this bacteria. People who have Pontiac fever don’t have pneumonia. The symptoms of Pontiac fever include a headache, fever, and body aches. You should see your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to this bacteria.

Chlamydophila Pneumonia

This type of pneumonia occurs throughout the year. It presents very mild symptoms and rarely causes serious cases.

This condition is most common in school-age children. It’s estimated that 50 percent of adults have had this condition by age 20.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for atypical pneumonia?

There are many risk factors for atypical pneumonia, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Older age
  • Aweak immune system
  • Other chronic illness

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is atypical pneumonia diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a physical exam. You may also need a chest X-ray for diagnosis. A chest X-ray can distinguish between pneumonia and other respiratory illness, such as acute bronchitis.

Depending on your symptoms, you may need other tests. Some tests use to diagnose pneumonia include:

  • A culture of mucus from your lungs, which is called sputum
  • A sputum gram stain study
  • A throat swab
  • A complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood tests for specific antibodies
  • Blood cultures

How is atypical pneumonia treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat the specific bacteria causing your condition. For mild cases, you will take antibiotics by mouth. In more severe cases, you may get them through an IV. Antibiotics might be used for 2 weeks or more. Finish all the antibiotics you’ve been prescribed, even if you feel better. If you stop the medicine too soon, the pneumonia can return and may be harder to treat.

Some people with severe atypical pneumonia may need supplemental oxygen.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage atypical pneumonia?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with atypical pneumonia:

  • Control your fever with aspirin, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children because it may cause a dangerous illness called Reye syndrome.
  • DO NOT take cough medicines without first talking to your provider. Cough medicines may make it harder for your body to cough up the extra sputum.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
  • Get a lot of rest. Have someone else do household chores.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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