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Viral Syndrome (Adult)

A viral illness may cause a number of symptoms. The symptoms depend on the part of the body that the virus affects. If it settles in the nose, throat, and lungs, it may cause cough, sore throat, congestion, and sometimes headache. If it settles in the stomach and intestinal tract, it may cause vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes it causes vague symptoms like "aching all over," feeling tired, loss of appetite, or fever.

A viral illness usually lasts 1 to 2 weeks, but sometimes it lasts longer. In some cases, a more serious infection can look like a viral syndrome in the first few days of the illness. You may need another exam and additional tests to know the difference. Watch for the warning signs listed below.

Home care

Follow these guidelines for taking care of yourself at home:

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the first 2 to 3 days.

  • Stay away from cigarette smoke - both your smoke and the smoke from others.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever, muscle aching, and headache, unless another medicine was prescribed for this. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines No one who is younger than 18 and ill with a fever should take aspirin. It may cause severe liver damage.

  • Your appetite may be poor, so a light diet is fine. Avoid dehydration by drinking 8 to 12 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day. This may include water; orange juice; lemonade; apple, grape, and cranberry juice; clear fruit drinks; electrolyte replacement and sports drinks; and decaffeinated teas and coffee. If you have been diagnosed with a kidney disease, ask your doctor how much and what types of fluids you should drink to prevent dehydration. If you have kidney disease, drinking too much fluid can cause it build up in the your body and be dangerous to your health. 

  • Over-the-counter remedies won't shorten the length of the illness but may be helpful for cough, sore throat; and nasal and sinus congestion. Don't use decongestants if you have high blood pressure.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your health care provider if you do not improve over the next week.

When to seek medical advice

Call your health care provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Cough with lots of colored sputum (mucus) or blood in your sputum

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty breathing

  • Severe headache; face, neck, or ear pain

  • Severe, constant pain in the lower right side of your belly (abdominal)

  • Continued vomiting (can’t keep liquids down)

  • Frequent diarrhea (more than 5 times a day); blood (red or black color) or mucus in diarrhea

  • Feeling weak, dizzy, or like you are going to faint

  • Extreme thirst

  • Fever of 100.4° F (38° C) oral or higher, not better with fever medication

  • Convulsion


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