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Atypical Pneumonia

(Walking Pneumonia)


Pneumonia is a lung infection. It can occur in people of all ages.

Atypical pneumonia may present as a mild form of infection compared to other types of pneumonia. Many people with atypical pneumonia can continue normal activities while sick. It is also commonly known as walking pneumonia.

All types of pneumonia are potentially serious conditions. It will require care from your doctor.

Development of Pneumonia in the Air Sacs of the Lungs

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Causes    TOP

Atypical pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. They tend to be different than the bacteria that cause more traditional forms of pneumonia.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase the chances of atypical pneumonia:

  • Contact with someone who has an infection (mycoplasma and chlamydia)
  • Exposure to water or soil that contains the bacteria (legionella)
  • Living in closed communities, such as dormitories in boarding schools or colleges, nursing homes, and military barracks
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Lung disease
  • Weakened immune system

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms of atypical pneumonia may include any of the following:

  • General signs of infection:
    • Mild fever
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Chills
    • Muscle aches and pains
    • Sore throat
  • Signs of respiratory infection:
    • Cough that may produce phlegm
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fast breathing
  • Other symptoms:
    • Abdominal pain
    • Decreased appetite
    • Headache
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue
    • Weakness
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Skin rash

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To look for an infection or specific causes of the infection your doctor may ask for:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Blood cultures
  • Sputum test

Your doctor may also need to take pictures of your lungs. This is done with a chest x-ray.

Pneumonia can cause problems with breathing. This may make it difficult for you to get enough oxygen. To measure the level of oxygen in your blood your doctor may do the following tests:

  • Pulse oximetry
  • Arterial blood gas

Treatment    TOP

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:


Atypical pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics. These medications are most often taken at home. However, more severe pneumonia may require antibiotics be delivered through an IV in the hospital.


If you are severely ill from pneumonia, you may need extra oxygen. Some people need to be intubated if their lungs are not working well enough. This is the placement of a tube in your throat. It can provide pressure to help keep your lungs open while delivering oxygen.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce the chances of atypical and other types of pneumonia:

  • Use good hand-washing techniques.
  • Avoid contact with other ill people.
  • Get treatment for your chronic conditions.


American Lung Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


The Lung Association


Blasi F, Tarsia P, Aliberti S, Cosentini R, Allegra L. Chlamydia pneumoniae and mycoplasma pneumoniae. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005;26(6):617-624.
Community-acquired pneumonia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated December 18, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.
Cunha BA. The atypical pneumonias: clinical diagnosis and importance. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2006;12(Suppl)3:12-24.
Cunha BA. Atypical pneumonias: current clinical concepts focusing on Legionnaires' disease. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2008;14(3):183-194.
Learn about pneumonia. American Lung Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed February 16, 2018.
Pneumonia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Updated August 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.
Thibodeau KP, Viera A.J. Atypical pathogens and challenges in community-acqiured pneumonia. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(7):1699-1706.
Last reviewed February 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 2/9/2016

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