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.

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

  • You may use over-the-counter medicines to control fever or pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. (Note: 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 be helpful to reduce symptoms. (Note: Do not 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 notified of any new findings that may affect your care.

Note: 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, talk to your healthcare provider about having pneumococcal vaccinations and a yearly influenza vaccination (flu shot).

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

  • Coughing up increased amounts of colored sputum

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

Call 911, or get immediate medical care

Contact emergency services right away 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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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.