Bronchitis

Respiratory

An acute case of bronchitis is not fun to deal with. When you get bronchitis, the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed and swollen. The airways in your lungs get narrow and this causes a cough that can last for weeks. Bronchitis is caused by a virus, bacteria, or something in the air you breathe. It usually goes away in one to three weeks. Bronchitis affects around 2.5 million people in the United States each year and almost 80 percent of cases need antibiotic treatment.

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Symptoms

  • Cough that lasts up to a few weeks
  • Tightness or soreness in the chest
  • Mucus that is white, clear, yellow, or green, and may have some blood
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Watery eyes
  • Mild headache and/or body aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills

Risk Factors

Recent viral illness. A recent cold or influenza can lead to an acute case of bronchitis.

Smoking cigarettes. Smoking or exposure to secondhand 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 tend to get bronchitis after other illnesses.

Diagnosis

If you have any of the symptoms listed 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:

  • Sputum culture
  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood tests

Treatments

Bronchitis from a viral infection is usually treated with rest and fluids and will go away on its own in a few weeks. These additional treatments will help manage symptoms in the meantime:

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 (OTC) cough medicine or prescribe 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 steroid inhalers.

Corticosteroids. In severe cases of bronchitis, you may need an oral steroid to help reduce the inflammation.

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

Chicken soup. Eat a nice hot bowl of chicken soup. Proponents say that hot chicken soup can help ease 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 echinacea 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 antiviral medication. Garlic can help lessen the severity of viral bronchitis and speed up recovery. Use caution if you are on blood thinners.

Prevention

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 do not 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 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.

References

Albert, R. H. (2010, December 01). Diagnosis and treatment of acute bronchitis. American Family Physician, 82(11), 1345-1350. Retrieved from American Academy of Family Physicians: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/1201/afp20101201p1345.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, August 30). Chest cold (acute bronchitis). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/bronchitis.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Preventing and treating bronchitis. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/downloads/Flyer-Bronchitis.pdf

Hart, A. M. (2014, September). Evidence-based diagnosis and management of acute bronchitis. The Nurse Practitioner, 39(9), 34-39. Retrieved from Allied Health: https://alliedhealth.ceconnection.com/files/EvidencebasedDiagnosisandManagementofAcuteBronchitis-1415888726241.pdf

Knutson, D. & Braun, C. (2002, May 15). Diagnosis and management of acute bronchitis. American Family Physician, 65(10), 2039-2046. Retrieved from American Academy of Family Physicians: https://internal.medicine.ufl.edu/files/2012/07/5.18.08.01.-Acute-Bronchitis-review.pdf

A.D.A.M. Writing Staff. (2015, December 19). Bronchitis. Retrieved from A.D.A.M.: https://ssl.adam.com/content.aspx?productid=107&pid=33&gid=000019&site=slu.adam.com&login=SLUC3551

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