Bronchitis causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air from the mouth and nose to the lungs. Inflammation can make it more difficult for air to pass through, leading to various respiratory symptoms.

Bronchitis often feels like a severe cold and is characterized by a heavy cough. Left untreated, it can lead to a buildup of fluid and mucus in the lungs that can result in pneumonia and other serious complications. People with bronchitis, which can be acute or chronic, may find both prescribed and at-home treatments helpful for their symptoms.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Symptoms of bronchitis include wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, and shortness of breath. Often, bronchitis occurs after a nasty cold, beginning with a phlegmy, hacking cough. Many symptoms are similar to those of a cold or flu, including sore throat, fever, and body aches. Some people also experience vomiting or diarrhea as a result of the excess mucus passing through the gut.

The type of mucus produced from the cough can identify the cause of bronchitis. Clear mucus or a slimy film indicates that liquid is coming out of the lungs due to a lung infection. Mucus that is yellow or green indicates a bacterial infection.

sick woman in a blanket sitting on her couch


Lifestyle Causes of Bronchitis

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smoke irritates the bronchial tubes and encourages mucus build-up in the lungs. Plenty of research shows that smokers reduce their risk of developing bronchitis by staying physically active, but the most important change is to stop smoking.

Some professions are also risk factors for chronic bronchitis; regular contact with dust, chemical fumes, or vapors increases the risk. Coal mining, grain handling, livestock farming, and textile manufacturing can all expose workers to these elements.

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Health Causes of Bronchitis

Rhinovirus, or the common cold, can lead to acute bronchitis, as can influenza. For people with asthma or allergies, persistent inflammation of the bronchial tubes can increase the chance of developing bronchitis.

When the body is fighting off an illness, the bronchial tubes swell and create more mucus. Those with weaker immune systems, such as older and very young people, and people with autoimmune disorders, have a higher chance of developing bronchitis because their bodies are not as capable of removing infection. Women also tend to contract bronchitis more often than men.

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Acute Bronchitis

A person may have acute or chronic bronchitis, though acute is most common. In addition to coughing and wheezing, a person with acute bronchitis often coughs up clear or yellowish-green mucous.

With treatment, this condition typically goes away within two weeks, after the body has fought off the viral or bacterial infection. In some cases, however, untreated acute bronchitis can progress to chronic.

doctor checking patient's breathing with stethoscope


Chronic Bronchitis

Getting bronchitis over and over can degrade the bronchial tubes due to regular irritation and affect the ability to breathe deeply, leading to decreased lung function. This can result in chronic bronchitis. Bacterial infections and viruses can aggravate this condition, resulting in more severe cases.

Long-term coughing with expectoration of thick mucus is a symptom of chronic bronchitis. People with chronic bronchitis are at high risk for pneumonia.

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Treating Bronchitis: OTC Medications

Over-the-counter painkillers are sometimes used to relieve pain and fever associated with bronchitis. Certain over-the-counter expectorants can loosen up mucus in the lungs and make coughing more productive. When taking these, check with your doctor to make sure that they will help your condition. Cold prevention medication might not help treat bronchitis itself, but Vitamin C and other cold medicines can speed recovery from colds and the flu, thus speeding the relief from acute bronchitis.

woman about to take a painkiller with a glass of water


Treating Bronchitis: Bronchodilators

Medication can treat bronchitis by reducing inflammation of the bronchial tubes and reducing spasms in the airways that cause uncontrollable coughing. Bronchodilators widen the air passages by relaxing the bronchial muscles. This treatment is also common for people with asthma, COPD, allergic reactions, and other conditions that lead to breathing problems.

Most people with mild or moderate acute bronchitis don't require this treatment, and doctors will only prescribe it if necessary, as side effects include headaches, nausea, upset stomach, and flu-like symptoms.

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Home Treatment: Pursed Lips Breathing

A breathing technique called pursed-lip breathing can help a person with bronchitis increase airflow from their bronchial tubes because it keeps the airways open longer to allow the lungs to get rid of stale and trapped air and fully replace it with fresh, oxygen-rich air. Pursed-lip breathing can also help people which chronic bronchitis, enabling them to perform more rigorous activities for longer.

To try pursed-lip breathing, breathe in through your nose for about 2 seconds and pucker your lips like you’re getting ready to blow out a candle. Then breathe out very slowly through pursed lips, taking 2 to 3 times longer than you took to breathe in (4-6 seconds).

young woman blowing out through pursed lips


Preventing Bronchitis: Nutrition

Incorporating more foods rich in antioxidants can help reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes if an infection develops. Fruits and vegetables, as well as foods like flax seed, quinoa, and fatty fish, have anti-inflammatory properties along with other nutrients that support the overall health, and some studies suggest these foods may support lung health. Probiotic foods help replenish healthy bacteria in the gut and boost the immune system. These foods include kefir, cultured and fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and kimchi), kombucha, coconut kefir, and cultured yogurt. Probiotics are particularly important if a person is taking antibiotics for bronchitis, as this medicine kills both bad and good bacteria.

Avoiding any foods that increase mucous, such as those to which a person is allergic, can also reduce bronchitis severity. Most conventional dairy, fried foods, and foods high in sugar contribute to mucus formation, according to some studies.

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Preventing Bronchitis: Supplements

Certain vitamins and minerals may reduce the risk of developing bronchitis by boosting the immune system or by inhibiting the formation of mucus. N-acetylcysteine, an amino acid, can decrease the severity and frequency of coughing attacks and improve overall lung function.

Echinacea has antiviral properties that can help fight off the flu or colds, as does vitamin C. Astragalus root is a powerful antioxidant and immune system support. More research is needed to fully confirm the benefits of these supplements. As with any supplement regimen, check with your physician before adding these to your diet.

herbal supplements surrounded by herbs


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