Bronchitis, Antibiotic Treatment (Adult)

Illustration showing the lungs and a close up view of a bronchial tube (bronchus).

Bronchitis is an infection of the air passages (bronchial tubes) in your lungs. It often occurs when you have a cold. This illness is contagious during the first few days and is spread through the air by coughing and sneezing, or by direct contact (touching the sick person and then touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth).

Symptoms of bronchitis include cough with mucus (phlegm) and low-grade fever. Bronchitis usually lasts 7 to 14 days. Mild cases can be treated with simple home remedies. More severe infection is treated with an antibiotic.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • If your symptoms are severe, rest at home for the first 2 to 3 days. When you go back to your usual activities, don't let yourself get too tired.

  • Don't smoke. Also stay away from secondhand smoke.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicines to control fever or pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk to your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots. Aspirin should never be given to anyone younger than 18 who is ill with a viral infection or fever. It may cause severe liver or brain damage.

  • Your appetite may be low, so a light diet is fine. Stay well hydrated by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluids per day. This includes water, soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, tea, or soup. Extra fluids will help loosen mucus in your nose and lungs.

  • Over-the-counter cough, cold, and sore-throat medicines will not shorten the length of the illness, but they may be helpful to reduce your symptoms. Don't use decongestants if you have high blood pressure.

  • Finish all antibiotic medicine. Do this even if you are feeling better after only a few days.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If you had an X-ray or ECG (electrocardiogram), a specialist will review it. You will be told of any new test results that may affect your care.

If you are age 65 or older, if you smoke, or if you have a chronic lung disease or condition that affects your immune system, ask your healthcare provider about getting a pneumococcal vaccine and a yearly flu shot (influenza vaccine).

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Coughing up more sputum

  • Weakness, drowsiness, headache, facial pain, ear pain, or a stiff neck

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur.

  • Coughing up blood

  • Weakness, drowsiness, headache, or stiff neck that get worse

  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, or pain with breathing

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