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Mycoplasma Pneumonia

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Updated November 28, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What It Is:

Mycoplasma pneumonia is a type of pneumonia caused by a very tiny bacterium known as Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It is typically a milder form of pneumonia than bacterial or viral and is often referred to as "walking pneumonia". However, "walking pneumonia" can be any type of mild pneumonia, not just Mycoplasma pneumonia.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of Mycoplasma pneumonia may include:

  • Cough (typically dry)
  • Chest Pain
  • Fever and Chills
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Sore Throat
  • Headache

Less frequent symptoms such as ear or eye pain, muscle aches, joint pain, rapid breathing or rashes may be seen as well. Symptoms usually come on slowly over a period of one to three weeks.

Causes:

Unlike other types of pneumonia which affect mostly older adults, Mycoplasma pneumonia is most common in people under the age of 40. It is frequently seen in people that live or work in group settings, such as college dorms, schools and homeless shelters. However, even people who do not spend time in these environments can get it.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is passed by contact with respiratory secretions. Most other types of pneumonia develop as complications from other infections such as the cold or flu, but Mycoplasma pneumonia can be passed from person to person. This is why it is so common in settings where people are in close contact for extended periods of time.

Treatment Options:

Mycoplasma pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics but many people also recover on their own without treatment.

There are several things you can do at home when you have Mycoplasma pneumonia:

  • Take over the counter fever reducers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or aspirin. Aspirin should never be given to a child under the age of 18.
  • Avoid cough medications unless recommended by your health care provider. Cough suppressants can make it difficult for your body to cough up mucus, which could potentially make the pneumonia worse. Need help for that irritated throat? Try these sore throat remedies.
  • Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated and break up the mucus in your head and chest.
  • Run a humidifier to keep your airways moist.
  • Rest as much as possible to allow your body to heal.

Complications:

Complications include:

  • Ear Infections
  • Severe Pneumonia
  • Hemolytic Anemia
  • Skin Rashes

If you have been diagnosed with pneumonia but feel your symptoms are getting worse, you start to get better then your symptoms worsen or your develop different symptoms, contact your health care provider. These are all signs that you could have developed a secondary infection or complication. People with weakened immune systems, older adults and young children are more likely to develop complications from Mycoplasma pneumonia.

Prevention:

Mycoplasma pneumonia infections are difficult to prevent because they spread easily from person to person and because the symptoms may be so mild that an infected person does not know they have pneumonia. If you develop a fever and cough, contact your health care provider. Although these symptoms can be caused by many illnesses, your doctor will be able to determine whether or not you might have pneumonia.

If you have a weakened immune system, have an infant or you are an older adult that might be at risk for complications from pneumonia, avoid people with known Mycoplasma pneumonia infections. Do your best to avoid anyone who is sick if you are in a high risk group and wash your hands frequently.

In some rare cases, the antibiotic azithromycin may be prescribed to help prevent an infection with Mycoplasma pneumonia.

Sources:

"Mycoplasma Pneumonia." PubMed Health. 30 Aug 12. US National Library of Medicine. 14 Nov 12.

"Atypical Pneumonia." PubMed Health. 30 Aug 12. US National Library of Medicine. 14 Nov 12.

"Understanding Pneumonia." Lung Disease. 2012. American Lung Association. 14 Nov 12.

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