Viral bronchitis is an infection in the bronchial airways of the lungs caused by a virus rather than by bacteria, according to WebMD. About 90 percent of bronchitis infections are caused by a virus.
During a bronchitis infection, the mucus membranes that coat the bronchial passages become irritated, leading to swelling that constricts the airways, explains WebMD. Common symptoms of this type of infection include phlegmatic coughing and difficulty breathing. More severe symptoms include fever and coughing up blood. Irritants in the air can exacerbate symptoms. Patients with acute bronchitis typically recover within a few days, although smokers experience an extended recovery time.
Viral bronchitis most commonly occurs during the winter, according to Merck Manuals. It can develop from common winter viruses, such as the flu. Possible complications include respiratory failure and pneumonia, although these complications occur more commonly among the elderly or patients with weak immune systems. Patients may use drugs to lessen symptoms, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and some may find cough medicine helpful. Doctors do not use antibiotics to treat bronchitis caused by a virus.
After identifying the symptoms of viral bronchitis, doctors may take X-rays to confirm the diagnosis, according to Merck Manuals. Doctors can confirm the viral source of the infection by taking throat cultures.