CLEVELAND, OHIO — Cold and flu season can leave many of us walking around in misery – and most times we can chalk it up to the common cold.
But according to Cleveland Clinic’s Dan Allan, M.D., what we think is a common cold could sometimes turn out to be a case of walking pneumonia.
“Sometimes walking pneumonia is just a little harder to recognize,” he said. “Some people think they just have a bad head cold, or a chest cold, and they’re kind of half-awake, walking through their day, and trying to get through the day’s work, and not realizing that they have it.”
Dr. Allan said walking pneumonia, or ‘atypical pneumonia’ is a less-serious form of pneumonia, and is caused by a different bacteria than typical pneumonia.
He said, often times, people don’t even know that they have it, and will continue to go to work, or school, because the warning signs can be subtle.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia include cough, fatigue, and headache, which can be mistaken for a head cold or sinus infection.
A person may experience some shortness of breath, or wheezing, which can be mistaken for a chest cold.
Walking pneumonia is typically diagnosed by listening to a person’s vital signs, or performing a chest x-ray or blood work.
Dr. Allan said treatment consists of an antibiotic, but not the same one that is used for traditional pneumonia.
If you notice you’ve been suffering from cold-like symptoms, and they are lingering, without improvement, he said it’s time to get checked out by your doctor.
“If you’re feeling quite ill, get checked out,” said Dr. Allan. “If it’s more than a week or two, and it’s not improving, you need to get checked out. Once you’re cured, even, you can continue to cough for weeks and it can be a really prolonged, dry, cough that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.”
Dr. Allan said walking pneumonia is most common in people who spend a lot of time in proximity to one another – such as young children, college students or military members.
There is no vaccine for walking pneumonia, so the best line of defense is good, regular, hand washing.