Bronchitis is the inflammation, swelling, or infection of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. These air passages branch off on either side of your windpipe (trachea) into smaller airways, known as bronchioles, through which air is passed to and expelled from the lungs.
The walls of the bronchial airways secrete mucus that serves the function of trapping the incoming dust and other irritants that could otherwise aggravate and disrupt your normal respiratory functioning.
This condition can stem from an infection or the inhalation of irritants, which can irritate the bronchial lining and cause it to produce more mucus than usual. Coughing is your body’s way to rid the respiratory tract of this excessive mucus.
Moreover, the resultant swelling causes the air passages to become constricted, making it difficult to breathe.
What Causes Bronchitis?
Both viral and bacterial pathogens can be held culpable for a case of bronchitis infection, especially if it’s acute bronchitis. However, viruses that cause the common cold or flu are the most usual suspects.
You can contract this infection by inhaling the air containing tiny virus-containing airborne droplets that come out of the nose and mouth of an infected person when he/she coughs or sneezes in your vicinity.
You can also pick up the bug by coming in contact with contaminated surfaces and items at home and in public places, such as door handles and keyboards.
The usual mode of transmission is through the hands that touch a virus-ridden object and are subsequently placed near the nose or mouth, through which the virus makes its way into your system.
Signs and Symptoms of Bronchitis
- Persistent cough, which may bring up thickened and discolored mucus
- Wheezing, particularly in the case of chronic bronchitis
- Low fever and chills
- Tightness in the chest
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Running out of breath
- Constant feeling of tiredness
- Blocked nose and sinuses
The symptoms of acute bronchitis are usually more severe than those of its chronic counterpart and last for 3-10 days. However, the cough that starts off with some degree of mucus expulsion can progressively turn into a dry, hacking cough, which persists for several weeks.
As a result of the continual coughing, your chest and stomach muscles tend to become sore.
As for chronic bronchitis, you will have to bear with a stubborn cough accompanied by clear, yellow, white, or green phlegm. The condition tends to worsen two or more times every year, particularly during the colder months.
Other less commonly reported symptoms include:
- Foul breath, as you are forced to breathe through your mouth due to blocked sinuses, thereby enabling oral bacteria to thrive
- Coughing up blood-smeared sputum due to the bronchial ruptures and tears on account of persistent and exertive coughing
- Disrupted sleep due to the constant coughing and nasal congestion
Natural Treatment Options for Bronchitis
Here are some home remedies for bronchitis.
1. Add Ginger to Your Diet
Ginger, often used for treating the common cold, can also help with bronchitis. The anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties present in ginger help relieve irritated, inflamed, or swollen bronchial tubes.
A 2012 study published in Phytotherapy Research suggests that distinct ginger compounds could be used as anti-inflammatory drugs for managing respiratory infections.
- Add ½ teaspoon each of ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in 1 cup of hot water. Stir well and drink the mixture for a few days to get relief.
- You can make a herbal tea by adding 1 teaspoon each of ginger powder and black pepper to 1 cup of boiling water. Let it steep for a few minutes, and then add some honey. Drink this tea twice a day.
- You can also combine 1 teaspoon each of ginger powder, pepper, and cloves. Take this three times a day with honey or milk.
2. Drink a Glass of Garlic Milk
Due to its antibiotic and antiviral properties, garlic is highly beneficial for the treatment of bronchitis, especially acute bronchitis.
A 2016 study reports that garlic effectively inhibited the growth of infectious bronchitis virus. The research suggests that garlic can be used as a natural remedy for bronchitis.
- Peel three garlic cloves and chop them.
- Put them in 1 glass of milk and boil.
- Drink this milk at night before going to bed.
3. Drink Turmeric Milk
Follow this remedy to expectorate the excess mucus and get speedy relief from bronchitis-related congestion.
- Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to 1 glass of milk.
- Boil it.
- Drink this milk two or three times a day. For faster results, take the milk on an empty stomach.
4. Steam Inhalation with Eucalyptus Oil
Steam therapy is a very effective remedy for bronchitis. Using eucalyptus oil in steam therapy will soften the mucus in the obstructed airways, and its antibacterial properties will help in the healing process.
- Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to boiling water. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam. If eucalyptus oil is not available, you can use pine oil or tea tree oil.
- Eucalyptus oil can also be applied externally on the chest. This will help you expel the mucus and improve the functioning of the respiratory system.
5. Gargle with Salt Water
Gargling with salt water several times a day is a great way to treat various symptoms of bronchitis. Simply add 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 glass of warm water and gargle with it.
Be sure to use the exact amount of salt, as too much salt can cause a burning sensation in the throat and too little will not be as effective. You can gargle with salt water as often as you need.
There are two benefits of this remedy. First, it will soothe the inflammation in the throat, and second, it will cut through some of the mucus that’s irritating the throat.
6. Trust the Healing Potential of Honey
The antiviral and antibacterial properties present in honey help soothe the throat. Additionally, honey boosts your immune system.
- Adding 1 teaspoon of honey to your regular cup of tea will help a lot when suffering from bronchitis.
- You can also add honey to warm lemon water to treat congestion and throat inflammation that often accompanies bronchitis.
7. Expel the Mucus with Onions
The expectorant effect of onions helps dissolve thick mucus, thereby providing relief from bronchitis.
Furthermore, onion juice prevents further mucus buildup.
- Simply consume 1 teaspoon of raw onion juice every morning on an empty stomach.
- Also, add raw onions in your salad or use onions while cooking.
8. Relieve the Congestion with Sesame Seeds
Sesame seeds have medicinal properties that may reduce allergic bronchial responses.
- Combine 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon of linseed or flaxseed, a pinch of common salt, and 1 teaspoon of honey. Take this mixture daily before going to bed.
- You can also mix a ½ teaspoon of dry sesame seed powder and 2 tablespoons of water, and take this mixture twice daily.
9. Drink Plenty of Water
When suffering from bronchitis, it is recommended to keep your body well hydrated and to maintain a productive cough by drinking water and clear liquids.
So, drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. You can also drink fruit juices and vegetable juices. In the morning, you can have a glass of water mixed with the juice squeezed from half a lemon and a little honey.
Do not drink caffeine or alcohol, which can lead to loss of extra fluid, making the mucus tougher to dislodge.
If your symptoms get worse, in spite of trying these remedies, visit a doctor without delay.
Types of Bronchitis
Bronchitis can be described as being either:
Acute bronchitis is the most common variant of this condition. It is relatively short term, marked by a temporary inflammation of the airways and usually follows in the footsteps of some other upper respiratory infection.
Also called a chest cold, this condition has the characteristic symptoms of a cough and increased mucus production, which resolve in a matter of three weeks or less.
Acute bronchitis episodes are more prevalent during winter and among children under the age of five, although it is not exclusive to them.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) along the same lines as some other progressive lung conditions that cause permanent respiratory damage such as emphysema.
Unlike acute bronchitis, this condition is far more severe and long term and presents itself with a daily productive cough that lasts for three months, followed by recurrent episodes throughout the next two years.
In fact, the damage caused by this advanced stage of bronchitis to the bronchial tubes may never be completely undone, and the symptoms tend to recur frequently.
Chronic bronchitis can set in on account of prolonged exposure to environmental toxins, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust, and it is more common among people over 40. Moreover, repeated bouts of acute bronchitis can cause bronchial distress to turn chronic.
Prevention of Bronchitis
- Quitting smoking is imperative if you want to avoid damaging the integrity of your respiratory system.
- Make a habit of washing your hands as often as possible to minimize your chances of picking up this infection from a contaminated source.
- A surgical face mask can go a long way in shielding you from harmful environmental irritants and airborne pathogens when venturing out for work, being among crowds, or traveling.
- To avoid contracting bronchitis from a flu virus, make sure you get the annual flu shot.
- Consider getting vaccinated against some types of pneumonia also.
- Make sure that you are not running behind your pertussis vaccine schedule.
Risk Factors Regarding Bronchitis
- Breathing-in Irritant Substances – If you live in or frequently travel to places with toxic levels of air pollution, then you are at an increased risk of contracting this disease. Inhaling irritant substances, such as smog, chemicals in household products, and tobacco smoke, can wreak havoc on your respiratory system and trigger this condition. Cigarette smoking has emerged as the top culprit for chronic bronchitis, not just for active smokers but also for people who passively inhale secondhand cigarette smoke.
- Occupational Exposure – Frequent or long-term exposure to chemical fumes, dust, and other such toxins at your workplace can be hazardous to your lungs and can give rise to bronchitis and other forms of COPD. Unless the pulmonary damage has not reached an incurable stage, the symptoms of this type of “occupational bronchitis” tend to subside once you are no longer exposed to the irritant substance. Some of the standard occupational irritants include:
- Strong acids
- Grain dust
- Textiles (fabric fibers)
- People with subpar immunity, either due to a recent bout of illness or some other chronic condition
- Infants, young children, and the elderly, given their immune system is either underdeveloped or compromised
- People grappling with some other lung condition, such as asthma
- Perhaps the single most noteworthy complication of bronchitis is pneumonia. On average, 1 out of 20 people suffering from bronchitis is faced with this complication. Pneumonia develops when the infection spreads further into the lungs, causing fluid retention in the tiny air sacs inside the lungs.
- Another variant of pneumonia is known as aspirational pneumonia, which results from accidental ingestion of food through the windpipe. Bronchitis can have you break into a cough at the most unexpected times, including while you are eating. This can cause your food to get stuck in the throat and go down the wrong route into the lungs instead of the stomach. This gives rise to an extremely persistent infection that can completely wash you out.
- One of the common repercussions of chronic bronchitis is that your breathing becomes labored for an extensive period, sometimes even for good. This can exert significant pressure on your blood to keep pumping blood at the optimal level, eventually leading to cardiovascular ailments, including heart failure.
- If your bronchitis makes a comeback every now and again, it could even be taken as a sign of possible COPD.
When to See a Doctor
At the outset, bronchitis can often be mistaken for a garden-variety viral infection such as the cold or the flu.
However, if your cough shows no sign of subsiding or the symptoms are more debilitating than a regular case of sniffles and cold, you’re probably in the throes of a bronchitis infection.
Managing bronchitis generally hinges on adequate self-care, which entails giving your body a break, through optimum rest, take plenty of fluids, and a course of anti-inflammatory medication.
However, if you experience the following warning signs, a visit to the doctor should be in order:
- Cough sticking around longer than 3 weeks at a stretch
- Coughing up blood-speckled sputum
- Hands and feet appearing swollen or puffier than usual
- Running a high temperature for 3 days on end or longer
- Suffering from any preexisting lung or heart ailment
- Inability to catch your breath after the slightest physical exertion or even at rest
- Chest pains
- Drowsiness and confusion
- Symptoms making a comeback after full recovery and appearing worse than before
People suffering from bronchitis often try over-the-counter medications to manage the symptoms. There are also many simple, natural home remedies that can provide relief.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr.Laren Tan, MD (Pulmonologist)
How long does it normally take to get over bronchitis?
The symptoms of typical bronchitis or inflammation of the airways of the lung can take anywhere from one to four weeks to resolve. The time to fully recover depends on many factors, but one thing that can prolong recovery time is having a chronic respiratory condition.
Is it possible to treat bronchitis without any antibiotics?
More than half of the cases of bronchitis that are due to an infection have been reported to be associated with viruses. Of course, the number of bronchitis infections due to viral infections can vary depending on the time or season of the year.
Antibiotics are unlikely to be of great benefit to treat bronchitis caused by a virus. Initial treatment for a majority of bronchitis cases should be directed towards symptom control. Staying hydrated, avoiding noxious inhaled stimuli (for example, tobacco smoke) and other over-the-counter cough medications can be beneficial during the recovery phase.
How can one distinguish between a normal flu cough and a bronchitis cough?
In the initial phase of bronchitis and flu, the cough can be difficult to distinguish, but flu typically is associated with other systemic clinical findings such as fever, myalgia, generalized weakness, and chills.
Is bronchitis a fatal disease?
Bronchitis is typically not a fatal disease in those who are healthy and do not have any chronic respiratory diseases.
How long is a person contagious when they are suffering from bronchitis?
This depends on the cause of their bronchitis, whether it is viral or bacterial because it can be challenging to determine. I typically tell my patients that they may be contagious up to a week but because their cough lingers beyond one week, it is hard to provide an exact time frame when they are no longer contagious.
Please equip our readers with some knowledge to help them ward off bronchitis.
Avoidance of sick contacts and any inhaled noxious stimuli (i.e. vaping, tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke), eating a well balanced healthy diet, exercising and weight loss can all help in warding off bronchitis.
About Dr. Laren Tan, MD: Dr. Tan is a medical doctor who practices at Loma Linda University Health, CA. He is an expert in the fields of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. Dr. Tan has authored numerous journal articles in the field of obstructive airway diseases, critical care and medical innovation.
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