Bronchitis is a common illness that can lead to persistent coughing, congestion, and wheezing. Though these symptoms may sound scary, they don’t always need a trip to the doctor. You can cure bronchitis on your own without any medication. Several home remedies can ease the symptoms of bronchitis.
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a respiratory illness caused by viruses, bacteria, smoke, and other particles that can irritate the bronchial tubes. Bronchial tubes are the tubes that carry the air from the nose to your lungs. When the lining of these tubes get inflamed or get filled with mucus, it leads to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and sputum. You may even feel chest pain, headaches, sore, and itchy throat, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Bronchitis, also known as viral upper respiratory infections, account for over 30 million visits to doctors each year. Five percent of the adult population seeks medical advice for bronchitis every year. In fact, acute bronchitis is the fifth most common reason why people visit their GP (1).
Types of bronchitis
Bronchitis can be acute or chronic.
Acute bronchitis is a shorter illness, and it usually lasts less than ten days. It is generally caused by the same virus that causes a cold or flu. The symptoms of acute bronchitis are cough with mucus, chest discomfort, fever, and shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious and ongoing illness that is characterized by a persistent, mucus-producing cough. This condition keeps coming back and never goes away completely. It is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes are constantly inflamed. In some cases, viruses and bacteria infect the inflamed tubes, making the condition worse. Cigarette smoking is one of the common causes of chronic bronchitis. Breathing in polluted air, fumes, and dust over a long period can also cause it.
Several factors can raise the risk of bronchitis. These include –
People who smoke or live with a person who smokes are at a higher risk of developing bronchitis.
2. Low immunity
People who have low immunity levels have a higher chance of developing bronchitis. Acute illness such as flu, or a chronic condition can affect resistance. Infants and older adults are more vulnerable to infection.
3. Prolonged exposure to irritants
If your work involves exposure to irritants like chemical fumes, you increase your risk of developing bronchitis.
4. Gastric reflux
Severe heartburn can cause throat irritation and make you prone to developing bronchitis.
Symptoms of bronchitis
- Persistent cough
- Production of mucus (which may be white, yellow or green and in some cases streaked with blood)
- Low fever and chills
- Chest discomfort
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Body ache
- Blocked nose
Home remedies for bronchitis
You can treat bronchitis at home using these natural methods –
1. Stay away from irritants
Air pollution, smoke, dusk, and chemical fumes irritate the bronchial tubes. Stay away from these irritants to prevent and treat bronchitis. If your work does not allow you to stay away from these irritants, wear a mask, and breathe in clean air when possible. If you smoke, you should quit this habit.
2. Take rest
One of the common symptoms of bronchitis is fatigue. Listen to your body, and take plenty of rest. Sleep for at least eight hours every night. Sleeping helps boost the immune system and aids in faster recovery. If the cough is keeping you awake at night, use an extra pillow to prop up your head to soothe breathing.
3. Drink fluids
Drinking water can help thin the mucus in the bronchial tubes and make breathing easier. You can also drink herbal tea, diluted fruit juices, and clear soups. People with bronchitis become dehydrated due to loss of fluids from fever, runny nose, vomiting, and diarrhea. Drinking plenty of fluids helps to rehydrate, reduce mucus thickness, and moisturize the throat. Aim to drink at least 12 glasses a day.
4. Inhale steam
Steam helps to loosen mucus so that it can be expelled from the body faster. Make your shower as hot as you can handle. Step in and breathe in deeply. Another way to inhale steam is to pour hot water in a bowl. Now lean over the bowl while covering your head with a towel and inhale the steam. Don’t stay over the water for more than one minute at a time to avoid irritating the lining of your nasal passage.
5. Use a humidifier
Low humidity and cold temperature can lead to respiratory infections. Less moisture can irritate the nasal passage, the throat, and lead to itchy eyes and dry skin. Inhaling humidified air can loosen mucus and help expel it.
According to a 2014 study from New Zealand, long-term air modification therapy is a cost-effective solution for patients of COPD and bronchiectasis (2). When you use a humidifier, make sure you clean and maintain it well, as they can be breeding ground for bacteria and mold.
6. Quit smoking
Smoking is one of the leading causes of chronic bronchitis. Smoking damages the bronchial tubes and breaks down the body’s defense against infection. According to a study by the Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, risk of chronic bronchitis is significantly higher in smokers than in people who have never smoked. Within five years of quitting smoking, this risk lowers to the same levels as that of non-smokers (3). Second-hand smoking is also harmful, so encourage people in your family to quit smoking.
7. Use pursed-lip breathing
People with bronchitis often breathe fast. Pursed lip breathing helps slow down the pace of breathing and shortness of breath. By slowing down breathing, the airways stay open so that the lungs can get rid of stale air and improve the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It also increases the time you can perform an activity (4).
To do pursed-lip breathing, breathe in through your nose as if you are smelling something, for two seconds. Pucker your lips as if you are ready to blow out the candles for your birthday. Breathe out slowly through your pursed lips.
8. Gargle with saltwater
Gargling is a simple method to get rid of the mucus that is stuck in the throat. Take a cup of warm water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in it. Gargle with this water and spit it out after gargling. Repeat this several times a day.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties which can help in the treatment of respiratory infections (5). To soothe your throat, you can chew dried ginger, drink ginger tea, eat it raw, or add it to food. You can also consume ginger as a capsule.
Garlic can also help in the treatment of bronchitis. According to a recent study, garlic extract has inhibitory effects on infectious bronchitis virus (6). It is best to take fresh garlic, but if you don’t like the taste, you can also have garlic capsules.
Turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Curcumin, the yellow pigment present in turmeric has several healing properties, including treating respiratory infections (7). Turmeric also helps to boost immunity and prevent infections. You can add fresh turmeric to your food. You can also make tea with turmeric powder. Mix some turmeric with honey to form a paste and consume it two to three times a day.
Echinacea is a native American coneflower that was used as a traditional herbal remedy by the Great Plains Indian tribes. Its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties help provide relief from upper respiratory infections. According to a 2011 study, Echinacea extracts possess a combination of bioactivities that can be useful in the treatment of colds, flu, and bronchitis (8). Echinacea is also helpful in treating headaches.
Astralagus is an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries for its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. This powerful herb strengthens weak lungs and increases the body’s ability to fight infections (9).
Ginseng is a traditional Asian herb that provides relief from the symptoms of bronchitis. According to a study from the University of Milan, Italy, ginseng is effective in reducing bacteria in the lungs of people who have chronic bronchitis (10). The anti-inflammatory properties of ginseng help in reducing inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
Eucalyptus oil helps to reduce inflammation in the airways and treats bronchitis. It also has expectorant properties that help to expel mucus. Cineole, the main constituent of eucalyptus oil, reduces exacerbations and dyspnea and improves lung function and health status. It helps control and reduces airway inflammation (11).
Oregano essential oil is known for its anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It contains healing compounds like carvacrol, thymol, and terpinene. It treats respiratory problems and is a popular remedy for cold and flu symptoms. This oil can be used to treat viral infections, reduce inflammation, and to treat bronchitis symptoms (12).
17. Peppermint oil
Many products for treating respiratory conditions contain this oil. It contains menthol, which when inhaled creates a cooling sensation which soothes the throat. Peppermint oil helps to relax the bronchial muscles, which ease breathing and prevents coughing (13).
18. Rosemary oil
Rosemary oil contains cineole, a compound called which helps to break up mucus and reduce inflammation. According to a 2013 study, when 242 patients took cineole for four days, it showed significant improvement in bronchitis (14).
Though most cases of bronchitis can be treated at home with rest and home remedies, in some cases, it is essential to see the doctor. You must visit your doctor if you notice the following symptoms –
- Cough that lasts more than three weeks
- Constant fever for more than three days
- If the coughed-up mucus contains blood
- If you have a pre-existing lung and heart condition
- Rapid breathing or chest pains
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Painful cough
- Frequent reoccurrence of bronchitis
In around 5% of cases, bronchitis can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia occurs when the infection spreads deeper into the lungs.
Bronchitis is a respiratory illness caused by viruses, bacteria, smoke, and other particles that can irritate the bronchial tubes. The symptom of bronchitis can be resolved in one or two weeks through home remedies. However, if the symptoms do not ease or you develop symptoms like blood in mucus or high fever, you must consult a doctor.