Viral Bronchitis (Adult)

Front view of man's chest showing lungs. Inset shows cross section of bronchus.

You have a viral bronchitis. Bronchitis is inflammation and swelling of the lining of the lungs. This is often caused by an infection. Symptoms include a dry, hacking cough that is worse at night. The cough may bring up yellow-green mucus. You may also feel short of breath or wheeze. Other symptoms may include tiredness, chest discomfort, and chills.

Bronchitis that is caused by a virus is not treated with antibiotics. Instead, medicines may be given to help relieve symptoms. Symptoms can last up to 2 weeks, although the cough may last much longer.

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).

Most viral illnesses resolve within 10 to 14 days with rest and simple home remedies, although they may sometimes last for several weeks.

Home care

  • If 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.

  • Do not smoke. Also avoid being exposed to secondhand smoke.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine to control fever or pain, unless another pain 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 years of age who is ill with a viral infection or fever. It may cause severe liver or brain damage.

  • Your appetite may be poor, so a light diet is fine. Avoid dehydration by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluids per day (such as water, soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, tea, or soup). Extra fluids will help loosen secretions in the nose and lungs.

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

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 notified of any new findings that may affect your care.

If you are age 65 or older, or if you have a chronic lung disease or condition that affects your immune system, or you smoke, 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 increased amounts of colored sputum

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

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Coughing up blood

  • Worsening weakness, drowsiness, headache, or stiff neck

  • Trouble breathing, wheezing, or pain with breathing

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