The bronchi are the passages that connect the lungs to the mouth and nose. But what home remedies are best to treat bronchitis?
People with bronchitis experience breathing difficulties caused by a reduced capacity to carry air through the bronchi into the lungs. They also tend to have mucus or phlegm in their airways.
Several treatments, including many home remedies, are available to treat bronchitis and its symptoms. This article looks at how effective these treatments may be, so that people with bronchitis can make an informed decision about how to treat it.
Home remedies and how they work
Luckily, there are home remedies that can help ease acute and chronic bronchitis.
Using a humidifier
Warm drinks such as tea may make coughing easier and the use of ginger in tea is recommended as it is an anti-inflammatory.
Keeping the air in the home or workplace moist helps to loosen mucus in the airways and reduce coughing. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer to do this.
A 2014 study indicates that long-term humidification therapy is a cost-effective treatment for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis. However, researchers cautioned that more investigation was necessary.
COPD is an umbrella term for a number of lung conditions including bronchitis and bronchiectasis, which is a condition where the airways become abnormally wide.
If a person with one of these conditions uses a humidifier, it should be regularly cleaned, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, to kill bacteria and other pathogens that make symptoms worse.
Drinking warm liquids
Warm water, tea, and other hot drinks help to thin mucus, making coughing easier.
Ginger tea may also help bronchitis symptoms, as ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Wearing a face mask in cold weather
Being hit by sudden cold air can increase a cough. Covering up the mouth and nose before going outside in cold weather can help to reduce coughing and shortness of breath. Cold-air face masks are available, or the mouth can be covered with a scarf or other item of clothing.
Honey is often used as a natural remedy for a cough, and it is said to have both antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Research into the effectiveness of honey for respiratory tract infections indicates it may be an effective home treatment.
A 2007 study looked at how well dark honey worked for children with bronchitis. While the children who took the honey experienced greater symptom relief than those taking the placebo, the clinical benefit was small. Honey should not be given to children under 1 year.
Pursed-lip breathing techniques
A breathing technique known as pursed-lip breathing may benefit people with bronchitis, as well as those with COPD.
The COPD Foundation advise that this technique helps people breathe easier by:
- keeping airways open longer
- slowing down breathing
- helping the lungs eliminate stale, trapped air
- improving the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
- increasing the time that can be spent on certain activities
Pursed-lip breathing involves inhaling through the nose for 2 seconds, before puckering the lips and exhaling slowly through the mouth for 4 to 6 seconds.
Essential oils such as eucalyptus may help to reduce airway inflammation.
Many people with bronchitis or COPD use essential oils to ease symptoms, particularly inflammation and breathing difficulties.
Some research suggests airway inflammation can be reduced by using myrtol, eucalyptus oil, or orange oil, with myrtol oil showing additional benefits against inflammation.
An animal study also found that oil from the flower Zataria multiflora reduced inflammation in guinea pigs with COPD.
Other essential oils which may help ease the breathing difficulties associated with bronchitis include:
- tea tree
Essential oils can be inhaled directly or used in a diffuser. Never take essential oils internally or apply them directly to the skin. To use on the skin, mix them with a carrier oil, such as mineral oil or sweet almond oil. Usually, it is 3-5 drops per 1 ounce of carrier oil.
Ginseng is a popular herbal remedy extracted from the fleshy roots of various slow-growing perennial plants.
In some research, ginseng extract was found to reduce the number of bacteria in the lungs of people with chronic bronchitis, who were having an attack of acute bronchitis.
Ginseng also has anti-inflammatory qualities, which may help it quell inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
This supplement is a modified version of the amino acid cysteine. It may help to reduce both the frequency and severity of coughing. NAC may also thin the mucus in the bronchi, allowing it to be eliminated from the body more easily.
An analysis of 13 studies on NAC for chronic bronchitis or COPD suggests that people with chronic bronchitis and an airway obstruction benefit from 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day. Those with bronchitis without an airway obstruction see benefits from a regular dose of 600 mg daily.
Other research suggests that those who have high vitamin D levels experience shorter bouts of respiratory infections or milder symptoms.
However, the evidence is mixed when it comes to taking vitamin D to treat respiratory infections. Nonetheless, vitamin D is important for overall health and supplementation is a low-risk approach to bronchitis treatment.
If you choose to use supplements, essential oils, or herbs, be aware that these are not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety, quality, purity, or packaging. Choose to buy from a company you trust.
Types of bronchitis
There are two types of bronchitis known as acute and chronic.
Acute bronchitis, or a chest cold, is a common condition which can develop from a cold or respiratory infection. People tend to recover from acute bronchitis within 10 to 14 days.
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a constant irritation of the bronchi that lasts 3 months or more, or recurrent episodes of bronchitis for at least 2 years. In 2015, 9 million Americans were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis.
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may worsen periodically, which indicates acute bronchitis in conjunction with the chronic condition.
Causes of bronchitis
The causes of bronchitis vary depending on the type.
Acute bronchitis is most commonly caused by a virus, particularly those that cause cold and flu. Viruses do not respond to antibiotic treatment, and so antibiotics should not be prescribed to someone who has acute bronchitis caused by a virus.
Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, although air pollution or dust can be a factor in some cases.
A very large percentage of people who develop bronchitis have a history of smoking.
Several risk factors are linked with the onset of bronchitis, including:
- Poor immunity: People with lowered immunity are more vulnerable to bronchitis. Factors which reduce immunity include illness, viral infection, and age. Older adults and young children are at greater risk.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoke can irritate the lining of the bronchial tubes, which can result in bronchitis. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with chronic bronchitis have a history of smoking. However, even passive smoke can be a risk factor. A 2012 study found that exposure to passive smoking at work almost doubled the risk of chronic bronchitis, while passive smoking at home increased the risk by 2.5 times.
- Other irritants: Continued exposure to grains, chemicals, dust, and fabric is known to cause irritation to the delicate lining of the bronchi.
- Heartburn: The acid that rises due to heartburn causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes.
Symptoms of bronchitis
The most common symptoms of bronchitis are:
- difficulty breathing
- mucus exhaustion
- generalized discomfort in the chest
- low-grade fever
People with acute bronchitis may also have had other symptoms consistent with cold or flu that contributed to the development of bronchitis. Examples of such symptoms include:
There are several steps to take to reduce the risk of developing acute or chronic bronchitis:
- Avoid irritants: If contact with lung irritants is unavoidable, take steps to reduce exposure. For example, increase ventilation or wear a mask.
- Quit smoking: Cutting out tobacco and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke will help.
- Improve immunity: Addressing underlying health conditions, eating a balanced diet, working out, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep all help.
- Limit exposure to bacteria and viruses where possible: Do this by washing hands frequently.
- Discuss vaccinations with a doctor: These may reduce the risk of bronchitis.
When to see a doctor
It is important to consult a doctor if symptoms of bronchitis endure beyond 3 weeks, are accompanied by a fever, or interfere with sleep.
Seek immediate medical attention if breathing difficulties become severe, or coughing produces blood.