An acute case of bronchitis isn’t fun to deal with. The cough can last for weeks and may send you to the doctor. Bronchitis happens when your bronchial tubes become inflamed due to a virus, bacteria, or something in the air you breathe. Bronchitis affects around 2.5 million people in the United States each year and almost 80 percent of cases need antibiotic treatment.
What Is Bronchitis?
When you get bronchitis, the lining of the bronchial tubes become inflamed and swollen. The airways in your lungs get very narrow and this causes the cough. Acute bronchitis is caused by a virus, bacteria, or something you inhaled. It usually goes away in one to three weeks.
Symptoms of Bronchitis
Cough that lasts up to a few weeks
Tightness in the chest
Mucus that is white, clear, yellow, or green, and may have some blood
Shortness of breath
What Causes Bronchitis?
The most common cause of bronchitis is viral. This often happens shortly after you recover from either influenza or a cold. Less often, a bacterial infection causes bronchitis. You can also sometimes get bronchitis from something you breathe in like smoke, inhaling water, and pollutants.
Bronchitis Risk Factors
The risk of getting bronchitis goes up with the following:
Recent Viral Illness. A recent cold or influenza can lead to an acute case of bronchitis.
Smoking Cigarettes. Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke can put you at risk.
Reflux Disease. If you suffer from severe heartburn or chronic reflux, stomach acid can be inhaled into the airways and cause irritation leading to bronchitis.
Your Work. If you work around chemicals that irritate the lungs.
Low Immunity. If you have a compromised immune system, you may have a tendency to get bronchitis after other illnesses.
Diagnosing Bronchitis of Bronchitis
If you have any of the symptoms above, see your doctor for an evaluation. Be prepared to answer questions about how long you have been coughing, what the mucus looks like, and if you have recently been sick. The doctor will look in your ears, nose, and throat to check for signs of infection. They will also listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for wheezing or crackling sounds. Sometimes they place a little oxygen monitor on your finger to see how much oxygen you are getting into your body.
The following tests may be needed:
Treatment for Bronchitis
Bronchitis from a viral infection is usually treated with rest and fluids and will go away on its own in a few weeks. You may be given the following medications to help:
Antibiotics. If the doctor suspects you have a case of bacterial bronchitis, you may be prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics will not help a case of viral or exposure related bronchitis, but can prevent bacteria from causing a superimposed infection.
Cough Syrup. If you have a moist cough, the doctor will recommend against cough syrup. You need to cough the mucus up so it does not progress to pneumonia. If you have a dry cough or are coughing at night, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter cough medicine or prescribe you something stronger.
Inhaled Medications. If you have severe wheezing, the doctor may give you an inhaler to open up your lungs. These include albuterol sulfate (bronchodilator) and/or inhaled steroids.
Corticosteroids. In severe cases of bronchitis, you may need an oral steroid to help reduce the inflammation.
Alternative Medicine for Bronchitis
Chicken Soup. Eat a nice hot bowl of chicken soup. Believers say that hot chicken soup can help ease any congestion and relieve coughing. Hot liquids in general can have a soothing effect.
Echinacea. Studies have shown that echinacea can reduce the severity of respiratory illnesses. With your doctor’s permission, take 300mg 3 times daily. Do not use if you are pregnant or if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder.
Eucalyptus Oil. If you don’t have acute asthma, inhaling eucalyptus oil has been found to help with acute bronchitis or any other cough. Place one or two drops in the tray on your humidifier or in a steaming bowl of water.
Peppermint Oil. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which can help thin mucus and relieve congestion.
Garlic. Garlic is said to be a powerful natural anti-viral medication. Garlic can help lessen the severity of viral bronchitis and speed up recovery. Use caution if you are on blood thinners.
Practice Good Hand Washing. Especially if it is cold and flu season. Use a good hand sanitizer when you are out in public.
Quit Smoking. If you don’t smoke, avoid secondhand smoke and make sure small children are not exposed to secondhand smoke.
Stay Away from Others who are Sick. Avoid going around sick people during cold and flu season. Stay away from people you know who have an active cough.
Protect your Lungs. If you are around anything that could irritate your lungs such as paint fumes, strong cleaning solutions, or smoke from fires, use a respirator. These are available in hardware stores.
With bronchitis, you will want to increase your breathing comfort until the cough subsides.
These tips can help:
Don’t smoke and avoid breathing anything that irritates the lungs.
Humidify the air in your home.
Drink plenty of fluids, more than you normally drink.
Stay out of air that is either too hot or too cold.
Rest as much as you can.