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Viral Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms, Investigations, Treatment, Preventative Measures

When the main air passages to the lungs get inflamed, this condition is known as bronchitis. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic and can occur as a result of a viral or bacterial infection. One of the main symptoms of bronchitis is chest pain. Viral infection causes rearrangement of cellular membrane of bronchus and alveoli.1

Viral Bronchitis

Causes of Viral Bronchitis

One of the causes of acute bronchitis is a viral infection of the respiratory tract. Initially, the nose, sinuses, and throat get affected, and then the infection spreads to the lungs. Some patients may also suffer from secondary bacterial infection in addition to the viral infection.

Viruses are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. These viruses infect the bronchial epithelium and cause inflammation along with increase in the mucus secretion. The viruses which are responsible for causing viral bronchitis are:

  • Rhinoviruses.
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus2
  • Adenoviruses
  • Coronaviruses
  • Parainfluenza Virus
  • Metapneumovirus
  • Influenza virus.

Some viruses like coronaviruses and rhinoviruses may cause severe exacerbation of chronic bronchitis.

Individuals Who Are At Higher Risk For Developing Viral Bronchitis Are:

  • The elderly people.
  • Infants.
  • Very young children.
  • Patients who are suffering from lung or heart disease.
  • Smokers.

Symptoms of Viral Bronchitis

  • Chest pain and discomfort.
  • Productive cough which brings up mucus. If the mucus is yellow-green in color, then it indicates a bacterial infection.
  • Weakness.
  • Low grade fever.
  • Patient experiences shortness of breath, which is worsened upon mild physical activity or exertion.
  • Wheezing is also present.

Investigations for Viral Bronchitis

Physical exam and medical history; where the doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to any abnormal lung sounds such as rales and also any abnormal breathing sounds which may be present. Other than this, tests which are done include:

  • X-ray of the chest.
  • Lung Function Tests (LFTs) help in diagnosis.
  • Pulse Oximetry: This test helps in determining the quantity of oxygen in the blood.
  • Sputum samples are also taken to look for signs of bacterial infection or inflammation.

Treatment for Viral Bronchitis

Viral bronchitis does not require any specific treatment and antibiotics are not advised, unless you develop secondary bacterial infection. A case of viral infection usually subsides on its own in a week or two.

Symptomatic Treatments for Viral Bronchitis Are As Follows:

  • Antiviral medications such as Relenza (Zanamivir) or Tamiflu are prescribed. These help in limiting or alleviating the symptoms and also help in preventing secondary bacterial bronchitis.
  • Therapeutic options to treat viral infections are limited.3
  • Using decongestants, nebulizers to help with breathing.
  • Cough syrups, which are expectorants to relieve chest congestion and pain.
  • Cough drops/lozenges can also be used.
  • Humidifier or a steam should be used in the bathroom.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin can be taken for fever; however, children should not be given aspirin.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe inhalers if you have wheezing.

Other Steps Which Help In Easing The Discomfort Are:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke and other such irritants.
  • Taking plenty of rest.

Preventative Measures for Viral Bronchitis

  • Quit smoking.
  • It is important to get a yearly flu vaccine with a pneumococcal vaccine.
  • Avoid irritants such as smoke and air pollution.
  • Wash your hands frequently so as to prevent the viruses and other contagious infections from spreading.

Also Read:


  1. Infectious bronchitis virus generates spherules from zippered endoplasmic reticulum membranes.
    Maier HJ, Hawes PC, Cottam EM, Mantell J, Verkade P, Monaghan P, Wileman T, Britton P.
    MBio. 2013 Oct 22;4(5):e00801-13. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00801-13.
  2. Respiratory syncytial virus infection: a decade of contributions.
    Blanco del Val A, Eiros Bouza JM, Mayo Iscar A, Bachillar Luque MR, Blanco del Val B, Sánchez Porto A, Ortiz de Lejarzu R.
    fez Med. 2012 Sep;20(3):169-75.
  3. Viral bronchiolitis in children: a common condition with few therapeutic options.
    Nicolai A, Ferrara M, Schiavariello C, Gentile F, Grande ME, Alessandroni C, Midulla F.
    Early Hum Dev. 2013 Oct;89 Suppl 3:S7-11. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2013.07.016. Epub 2013 Aug 21.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 31, 2022

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