What is atypical pneumonia?

Winters for specialists Pulmonologist in Lahore like means influx of patients with respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. When the latter is due to different microorganisms than common, it is termed atypical pneumonia. But what exactly is atypical pneumonia and how to treat it? Read on to find out:

What is atypical pneumonia?

Atypical or walking pneumonia is the infection of the respiratory tract caused by less commonly found organisms, that gain entry into the lungs and cause swelling or inflammation. In comparison to typical pneumonias, the atypical ones cause slightly different and milder symptoms, appear differently on the chest x-ray and respond differently to antibiotics. Most people with atypical pneumonia don’t need bed rest or hospitalization like the conventional cases. Unlike typical pneumonia, the atypical pneumonia can occur any time of the year, but is more common in the winters.

The culprit microorganisms include:

  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Chlamydia psittaci
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

Infection with atypical pneumonia is contagious and therefore, preventive measures need to be taken. These include: washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching your mouth or face, less contact with sick people especially if you have weakened immune system, quitting smoking, and getting the annual flu shot.

What are the symptoms of atypical pneumonia?

Commonly, the symptoms of atypical pneumonia are mild and appear 1 to 4 weeks after contracting the infection. However, in people with some form of chronic respiratory disorder, such as those with asthma, emphysema, congestive obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or those with weakened immune system, the symptoms tend to be severer.

The symptoms seen with atypical pneumonia, include:

  • Persistent cough that comes in fits
  • Persistent headache
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever with chills
  • Cold sweats
  • Chest pain on deep breathing
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Blood-tinged mucus with legionella pneumonia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion—especially in older adults
  • Loss of appetite
  • Less common or atypical symptoms include: diarrhea, ear or eye pain, rashes and neck lump.

How is atypical pneumonia diagnosed?

Healthcare providers need to perform a thorough physical exam and the right investigations to term a condition atypical pneumonia. Some of the necessary investigations include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • CT scan of the chest
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Nose and throat swab
  • Arterial blood gases
  • Blood cultures
  • sputum cultures
  • urine test for legionella pneumonia
  • lung biopsy—only done in serious cases

What are the treatment options?

Anyone suffering from atypical pneumonia can be managed as out-patient with the following measures:

  • Managing the fever: you can take over-the-counter pills to manage fever. The recommended drugs include: aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen. However, aspirin should be avoided in children as it can trigger Reye syndrome.
  • Hydration: you should increase the intake of water and other fluids to help loosen the secretions. When secretions are loosened, they are coughed up as phlegm. This phlegm can be sent to the lab for culture if the diagnosis is not already made. Taking cough medications can suppress the coughing out of sputum, and therefore, such medications should only be used after consultation from the healthcare provider.
  • Rest: atypical pneumonias can cause fatigue and bone pain. Therefore, you should take it easy for a few days, especially early on.
  • Antibiotics: your healthcare provider can prescribe a course of oral antibiotics for fighting the microorganisms or preventing superadded infection. If the disease doesn’t respond to oral drugs, intravenous therapy can be started.
  • Hospital admission: in case of disease worsening, you may be admitted to the hospital and managed therein.

What is the outlook for the patient?

With timely diagnosis and treatment, most cases of atypical pneumonia get better. Less commonly, the atypical pneumonia caused by legionella can lead to secondary illnesses like diabetes, kidney failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. For someone with atypical pneumonia, immediate help should be sought from experts like Pulmonologist in Islamabad at the first sign of complication.

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