Bronchitis refers to inflammation of the bronchi, the tubes that connect the windpipe, or trachea, with the lungs. When the bronchi become inflamed, breathing is more difficult and the membranes lining the airways produce large amounts of thick mucus, which trigger coughing spells. Acute bronchitis typically develops in cold weather, when a cold or flu virus attacks the airways; it’s often accompanied by a secondary bacterial infection. Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a mucus producing cough that lasts for three or more months and recurs yearly, normally in the winter. Smoking is the usual cause, and asthma, emphysema, and other chronic lung problems may increase vulnerability to the disorder. Less frequently, the condition is caused by breathing air that is polluted with hazardous dust, chemicals, or other environmental irritants.

Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

The patient’s description of symptoms is important in diagnosing both the acute and chronic forms. A doctor will want to know about recent respiratory infections and any exposure to possible airway irritants. She will also order a sputum culture to identify a causative bacterium, and possibly a chest X-ray. For chronic bronchitis, pulmonary function tests should also be done to detect possible emphysema.

Medical Treatments

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to eradicate bacterial infections. Expectorants, which make the mucus easier to cough up, may also be recommended. Long term antibiotic therapy may be needed for chronic bronchitis, or the drugs may be given prophylactically during a colorful. Bronchodilators might be prescribed to open the bronchial tubes, and an inhaled steroid given to reduce inflammation.

Alternative Therapies

Although alternative therapies do not rid the body of the bacteria that causes most bronchitis, some may alleviate coughing and other symptoms.


Massaging the upper body with oil of basil essence is recommended for chronic colds and coughs.

Herbal Medicine

Herbalists often advocate garlic to cure bronchitis. Patients are instructed to keep a garlic clove in the mouth at all times except when sleeping, using new cloves twice a day. They also recommend eucalyptus tea as an expectorant, and capsules containing garlic, parsley, and echinacea. Some advise drinking coltsfoot or angelica root tea, but these herbs should not be ingested because they are linked to an increased risk of cancer. Chinese herbalists use three different formulas: The Blue Dragon combination is given when there is a cough accompanied by watery sputum and chest congestion; the Minor Buplerum when there is both fever and a cough that produces sticky yellow mucus; and the Ophiopogon combination for a harsh, dry cough.


Practitioners urge that aconitum be taken as soon as the symptoms appear. Alternatively, a combination of aconitum, bryonia, and chamomile may be advocated.

Naturopathy and Nutrition Therapy

For acute bronchitis, some naturopaths recommend three days of fasting, followed by a rejuvenating diet that gradually reintroduces food. This regimen eschews dairy products, poultry, fatty meats, and all fried foods.

Self Treatment

Bed rest is advisable during an acute attack, with a gradual return to normal activities as symptoms disappear. It may take a week or two to recover fully. You should drink at least 10 glasses of fluids a day to thin the mucus. Use a coolmist humidifier to keep air moist. Hot showers also help alleviate congestion. Take aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve a low grade fever. However, do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 18 during the course of a cold, flu, or other viral infection, because it increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Abstaining from smoking is especially important. Smoking not only delays recovery but also sets the stage for chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other serious lung disorders. In addition, don’t allow anyone to smoke in your presence; second hand smoke is also highly irritating to the bronchi. If you have chronic bronchitis, stay away from people who have colds, and try to remain indoors during periods of high air pollution. If your work environment contains irritating dust or chemicals, wear a filtration mask.

Other Causes of Bronchial Coughs

Pneumonia, emphysema, and asthma can produce symptoms similar to those of chronic bronchitis and should be ruled out in the diagnostic process.