Mycoplasma are bacteria linked with everything from lung infections to pregnancy problems. No matter your age, gender or lifestyle, you could be affected. Here’s everything you need to know about these infections, including how to defend yourself in a natural and healthy way.
What Are Mycoplasma?
Mycoplasma are bacteria and the smallest known forms of living microbes currently identified by scientists. (1) For many people, they are part of the natural bacteria population of your throat, lungs and genitourinary tract.
In most cases, the more than 200 different kinds of mycoplasma that you might have living in your body are entirely harmless. However, there are five specific forms that can cause infections and serious health concerns: (2)
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
These bacteria live in your respiratory system and can cause lung infections.
- Mycoplasma genitalium
These bacteria live in and around your urinary tract and genitals.
- Mycoplasma hominis
These bacteria affect predominantly women and live in a women’s reproductive system and urinary tract.
- Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum
These bacteria live in the urethra of men and the cervix or vagina of women. Almost all healthy adults have this bacteria, but if it leads to an infection, it can create health problems.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people never notice mycoplasma. It’s a natural part of the bacteria population in your body. In fact, there are 10 times the amount of bacteria and microbe cells in your body as human cells. (3) But when a few distinct forms of the bacteria cause an infection, the results can be serious.
Specific signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of infection that you have. (2)
1. Mycoplasma pneumoniae
Also commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia,” this colloquial name itself hints to the answer to the question, “What is walking pneumonia?” Most people who get this type of bacteria infection come down with a mild form of pneumonia. Symptoms include fatigue, a sore throat, headaches and chronic coughing. In some cases, there may be a mycoplasma rash (a red rash that resembles hives).
2. Mycoplasma genitalium
This bacterial infection occurs if you have sex with someone who is already infected. The symptoms vary depending on your sex. If you’re female, you may notice a discharge (or even blood) from your vagina or pain when you’re having sex. If you’re male, you’ll notice a discharge from your penis and/or a burning or stinging sensation when you go to the bathroom.
3. Mycoplasma hominis
For most healthy people, these bacteria are never noticed and there are little to no symptoms. Signs of this bacterial infection usually occur only during pregnancy and birth, as the bacteria can pass on to the newborn from a mother who has it. It can cause miscarriages or early delivery, as well as a fever in newborns.
4. Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum
Very few men have this bacteria, but most healthy women do. The bacteria spreads during sex and can lead to symptoms like discharge from the penis or vagina, belly pain, and odor from the genitals.
Causes and Risk Factors
You can catch Mycoplasma pneumoniae (which causes lung infections) if you’re exposed to the sneezes, coughs or oral fluids from someone who is sick. For the other four major kinds of mycoplasma, the main way it spreads is via sexual contact.
Regardless of the type of mycoplasma you’re exposed to, for most people, infections are highly unlikely. For most people, these bacteria are a harmless, ever-present part of their day-to-day living. However, your risks of it turning into an infection go up if you have the following risk factors:
- You’re an older adult aged 60 or older. Aging can reduce your body’s natural ability to resist disease and infection. (4)
- You have a compromised immune system due to a preexisting health condition, such as HIV, AIDs, diabetes or cancer. (5)
- You currently have a disease or infection in the related area. For example, if you already have lung disease, you may be more susceptible to pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Is mycoplasma sexually transmitted?
Yes, some forms of mycoplasma are transmitted through sexual activity. However, researchers have yet to determine whether these bacteria can correctly be classified as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Under many classification systems, classic STIs such as gonorrhea lead to long-term damage of the reproductive organs. So far, there is not clear, conclusive evidence that mycoplasma have the same long-term effects. Regardless of the “official” term, these bacteria can still be sexually transmitted.
Diagnosis and Conventional Treatment
Based on visual analysis or physical symptoms alone, your doctor can’t come to a final conclusion. Due to their very small and simple nature, these bacteria are notoriously hard to diagnose unless your doctor orders a laboratory test. (6)
For example, with Mycoplasma genitalium, your doctor may take a urine sample, and for Mycoplasma hominis, your doctor will swab your urethra or vagina. The samples are then sent to a lab to be tested for the bacteria’s genes.
Once the bacterial infection has been diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Because most antibiotics work by weakening the cell walls of the bacteria, and mycoplasma bacteria do not have cell walls, traditional antibiotics like penicillin often don’t work. Instead, drugs like azithromycin or doxycycline may be prescribed.
What is the best antibiotic for mycoplasma?
Antibiotics are the fastest and most effective way to treat these infections. The antibiotic prescribed depends on the type of bacteria you’re dealing with.
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae: Fluoroquinolones, macrolides or tetracyclines
- Mycoplasma genitalium: Fluoroquinolones, macrolides or tetracyclines
- Mycoplasma hominis: Tetracyclines
- Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum: Fluoroquinolones, macrolides or tetracyclines
5 Natural Ways to Help Mycoplasma Treatment
Since the underlying cause of a mycoplasma infection varies based on the specific bacteria involved, natural treatment and prevention strategies revolve around both improving your body’s natural resilience to infection (since most healthy adults don’t experience problems with mycoplasma infections) and specific strategies to deal with the symptoms of localized infection.
1. Get More Sleep
While you’re asleep, your body produces something called cytokines. (7) These proteins protect you from mycoplasma infections. Plus, getting more sleep raises your levels of infection-fighting antibodies and white blood cells, which also help ward off bacteria invasions.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating too much sugar, (8) drinking too much caffeine, (9) or enjoying too many fatty foods (10) can all reduce the strength of your immune system and leave you more susceptible to mycoplasma infections. In contrast, several specific foods can help boost your immunity, (11) helping to prevent these infections and also improving the results of any other treatments you may be undergoing:
- Citrus fruits, which are high in vitamin C to boost the production of white blood cells
- Broccoli, which is high in antioxidants
- Garlic, which contains immune-boosting sulfur compounds like allicin
- Yogurt, which contains probiotics that can help rebalance the bacteria populations in your body
3. Exercise Regularly
Prolonged periods of intense exercise can weaken your immune system, but maintaining a moderate level of regular physical activity strengthens your immunity and helps ward off bacterial infections. (12) To help recover from a mycoplasma infection, aim for 20–30 minutes of moderate exercise (think a brisk walk or a slow jog) every day. (13)
4. Enhance Respiratory Health
If you contract pneumonia from Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a combination of soothing treatments can help you breathe easier and with less discomfort:
- Breathe in moist, warm air. This helps to soothe your airways, calm a sore throat, and improve lung function.
- Stay hydrated. Your lungs are 83 percent water. (15) Drinking lots of fluids helps your lungs to function at their top capacity.
- Consider applying essential oils topically, like eucalyptus or peppermint, to your chest and throat. The vapors can help open your airways and reduce a lingering cough and other pneumonia symptoms.
5. Maintain Good Sexual Health
Healthy sexual practices can help your body recover faster from a mycoplasma infection in your genitourinary tract, (15) such as Mycoplasma genitalium, Mycoplasma hominis, Ureaplasma urealyticum and Ureaplasma parvum. This includes practicing good hygiene; maintaining open communication with partners about any discomfort or health problems they may be experiencing before you engage in sexual activity; and always using protection.
Mycoplasma infections are transmitted via either exposure to water droplets from a sick person’s coughing, sneezing or breath, or sexual contact with someone who has the bacteria. Your body may already have varying levels of these bacteria, which only become a problem if they turn into an infection.
The best ways to prevent these infections are twofold.
First, avoid additional exposure with the bacteria. This includes avoiding sick people, washing your hands regularly, and wearing protection when engaging in sexual activity.
Second, since mycoplasma may already be present in your body, maintain good health and a strong immune system to keep the bacteria from turning into a full-scale infection.
A mycoplasma infection on its own is not always a cause for urgent alarm. However, if left untreated, the infection can spread and become more serious, leading to other health problems and even sepsis. For example, a woman with untreated Ureaplasma urealyticum can give her newborn baby pneumonia; an untreated Mycoplasma hominis infection can cause miscarriages; and untreated Mycoplasma genitalium can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.
Thus, if you experience any of the symptoms, talk to a medical professional immediately. Your doctor can order a quick test to determine if you have these specific bacteria infections, and prescribe a course of treatment to rid yourself of the problem.
- Mycoplasma are some of the simplest, smallest forms of bacteria.
- There are more than 200 different kinds, and most of them are harmless. However, five forms of the bacteria can cause serious health problems.
- Signs and symptoms of of these infections vary by the type of bacteria, but can include pneumonia, painful urination, discharge from your genitals, and pregnancy problems.
- All mycoplasma infections are caused by bacteria, and your risks go up if you’re older, have a compromised immune system or are already struggling with an infection.
5 Natural Ways to Help Your Treatment
- Get more sleep, which raises your levels of infection-fighting cytokines.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in immune-boosting foods like garlic.
- Exercise for 20–30 minutes a day.
- Enhance your respiratory health by using a humidifier, staying hydrated and using essential oils to soothe coughs.
- Maintain good sexual health through regular checkups, maintaining good hygiene and wearing protection.
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