Acute Bronchitis Remedies
Many people suffer an attack of acute bronchitis as part of a severe cold. Bronchitis occurs when an irritant or infection causes inflammation and swelling of the lining of the bronchial tubes. These tubes, the bronchi, are the major air passages that lead from the trachea (the windpipe) into the lungs. The bronchi are lined with cilia, or tiny hairs, that sweep foreign matter out of the respiratory tract. When the bronchi are inflamed, the cilia don’t function properly, and coughing—the chief symptom of bronchitis—becomes the body’s way of coping with the irritants and mucus that build up and threaten to clog the bronchi.
About 5 percent of Americans suffer from chronic bronchitis, which is characterized by a deep mucus-producing cough that over time becomes constant and lasts for months. Most people who get chronic bronchitis are smokers.
Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis
- Persistent coughing that may be initially dry and hacking, but usually becomes productive, bringing up sputum that is green, yellow or gray
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath and wheezing (whistling sound during breathing)
- Fever (occasionally), usually below 101°F and chills
- Chest pain and discomfort behind the breastbone
- Generally feeling sick
- Headache, sore throat and body aches
What Causes Acute Bronchitis
Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, including some of the viruses that cause the common cold. Occasionally, however, bacteria cause the condition. Chemical fumes, dust, smoke, or other irritating air pollutants may also cause or aggravate bronchitis. In addition, smoking, asthma, cold weather, congestive heart failure and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may increase the risk of an attack.
What If You Do Nothing?
Attacks of acute bronchitis are common but usually not a major health threat. Symptoms generally clear in about a week, but if you are a smoker or have a chronic lung disease such as asthma or emphysema, you must take care of the bronchitis to prevent possible complications.
Home Remedies for Acute Bronchitis
- Relieve the discomfort. Take nonprescription NSAIDs—aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen—or acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.
- Don’t stop a wet cough. If you have a wet productive cough (coughing up phlegm), do not suppress it with nonprescription cough suppressants unless the cough keeps you from sleeping. It’s not recommended to stop a cough entirely because mucus can become trapped in the bronchial tubes, leading to breathing difficulties or triggering pneumonia.
- Suppress a dry cough. If you have a persistent dry cough that interferes with sleep and everyday activities, take an over-the-counter cough suppressant containing dextromethorphan, a medicine that relieves a cough by acting directly on the brain’s cough center. Cough medicines with a name that ends in “DM” contain dextromethorphan.
- Drink plenty of fluids. This will liquefy the mucus and loosen phlegm, making it easier to expel them when coughing. Drink at least eight glasses of water or other nonalcoholic fluids a day, until your urine is virtually colorless.
- Humidify the air. Take hot steamy showers or use a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom to keep your bronchial tubes moist. However, home humidifiers can harbor fungi and other potential allergens, so be sure to keep the system scrupulously clean and in good working order. Change the water daily, and replace filters as often as directed.
- Wash your hands regularly to help prevent the spread of the bacteria that causes bronchitis.
- Don’t smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke as well.
- Take it easy. If you are at risk for bronchitis, avoid strenuous outdoor work and outdoor exercise on poor air-quality days.
- Steer clear of all respiratory irritants. Try to avoid paints, dust, smoke, chemical vapors or other irritants. If these are unavoidable at your workplace, be sure to use a mask or other protective gear.
- Filter the air. If you live in an area with high pollution levels and your bronchitis has become chronic, consider installing a home air-conditioning unit to filter the air. Like humidifiers, home air conditioners can provide an ideal environment for fungi that have the potential to worsen your symptoms, so it’s important to keep the system clean and to replace filters as often as directed.
- Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy, balanced diet to boost your immune system.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if symptoms don’t begin to ease up within 72 hours or if episodes of acute bronchitis recur. Also contact your physician if you develop bronchitis and you suffer from a lung ailment or congestive heart failure. If you cough up blood during an attack of bronchitis, or if you have a fever above 102°F, contact your physician right away.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Your doctor will take a complete medical history and then examine you. Blood tests and chest x-rays may also be taken. Sometimes, spirometry (breathing test) can be performed to rule out asthma. An expectorant may be prescribed to treat a dry, hacking cough. In most cases the underlying infection is caused by a virus, but after a positive diagnosis of a bacterial infection (about 10 percent of the cases), a course of antibiotics may be prescribed.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media