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Bronchitis is inflammation of the membranes of your airways. It can be acute or chronic. Its most common symptom is a cough. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, typically the same viruses that cause colds and influenza. Smoking is also a leading cause of bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, resulting in inflammation and increased secretion of mucus. A cough develops in an attempt to expel mucus from the lungs. Often a person gets acute bronchitis after having an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or the flu. In rare cases, acute bronchitis is caused by bacteria.
By contrast, the most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes, which is why it is called a smoker’s cough. It is caused by breathing in things that irritate the bronchial tubes, such as smoke or second hand smoke.
Air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace also can contribute to the condition. About 5% of the population has chronic bronchitis, and it is two times more common in females than in males.
The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough that is dry and hacking at first. After a few days, the cough may bring up mucus. You may have a low fever and feel tired. Acute bronchitis symptoms usually start 3 or 4 days after an upper respiratory tract infection. Most people get better in 2 to 3 weeks. But some people continue to have a cough for more than 4 weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as a cough with mucus most days of the month for 3 months of the year for at least 2 years in a row. As with acute bronchitis, you may cough up mucus. Other symptoms may include wheezing and shortness of breath, especially upon exertion. The cough is often worse soon after awakening. The mucus may be yellow or green or even streaked with blood.
To figure out whether or not you have bronchitis, try asking yourself the following questions about the classic bronchitis symptoms.
- Is there sputum that comes up when you cough? And if so, what color is it? Is there any blood?
- Do you smoke? And if so, how often?
- Do you have a fever?
- Did a cold or flu precede these symptoms? When did they start?
If you think you suffer from bronchitis, consult with your doctor. Doctors will diagnose bronchitis with a physical exam. This will check for a throat infection, swelling of the tonsils, and swollen lymph nodes. Lastly, they can also check if your breathing is clear or impeded. You may need an X-ray to check for viral infection of the lung tissue. And occasionally you may need a pulmonary function test.
Acute bronchitis should resolve itself within a couple of weeks. If you have no other health problems, experts do not recommend antibiotics be used for acute bronchitis. As most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, antibiotics should not be used, since they are effective only against bacteria. Using antibiotics in patients without bacterial infections promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which may lead to greater morbidity and mortality.
To relieve the symptoms of acute bronchitis, you should try:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Sucking on cough drops or hard candies to soothe a dry or sore throat
- Some herbal teas can loosen the mucus and make it easier to expel it.
Also, you can use a cough medicine if the cough interferes with sleep or is bothersome, although coughing is a reflex to expel mucus from the airways and is the body’s way of clearing your lungs.
- Chronic bronchitis can only be treated by removing the lung’s continual irritant, whether smoke, pollution or another chemical. Tobacco use is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis, so quitting smoking is essential for the body to heal.
- Medications can treat the symptoms, if not the cause, of chronic bronchitis.
- Inflammation and edema of the respiratory tract may be reduced with inhaled steroids.
- Wheezing and shortness of breath can be treated with bronchodilators.
- A randomized pilot study carried out with preschool children highlighted the efficacy of probiotics in combination with vitamin C in the prevention of respiratory tract infections particularly bronchitis [1,2].
- Natural remedies can help in providing relief from cough, cold and congestion resulting from respiratory infections. Ginger and turmeric are both known for its soothing effects in relieving common colds [3,4]. These anti-inflammatory and immune boosting herbs can also help in relieving irritated, inflamed or swollen bronchial tubes.
- The anti-microbial properties of garlic can be attributed to its active component which is allicin. Allicin is a potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent and also helps in relieving inflammation associated with bronchitis .
- Other natural remedies include honey , Echinacea  and herbs like thyme  and oregano  which are known for its anti-inflammatory and immune strengthening properties. While thyme and oregano can be used to make a tea, honey can be used incorporated in a number of ways. A spoonful of honey can always do wonders!
- Including certain foods and vegetables can also help in treating bronchitis. Onions, lemons and almonds have shown benefits in the treatment of colds. While almonds with its high potassium and calcium content extend healing powers, onions and lemons act as potent expectorants and help the flow of mucus.
- Homeopathic remedies are also seen to help release phlegm and reduce inflammation in bronchitis. Aconitum, Belladona, Byronia, Kalium bichromicum, Calcarea carbonicum etc. benefit in treating both acute and chronic type of bronchitis [6,8,9]. These remedies not only help in relieving the symptoms but also treating the infection.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) regards acupuncture as an important treatment for bronchitis. Acupuncture can help treat and control bronchial infections by removing internal blockages [13,14].
- Yoga emphasizes the importance of various breathing techniques particularly pranayama in treating bronchitis. Asanas that work on the chest area can help open this space and help in improving the respiratory system . Breathing muscles can be strengthened with the help of Anuloma Viloma (Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique) and Kapalabhati.
The best way to prevent acute bronchitis is to try to maintain a:
- Good diet
- Exercise and work-life balance to keep your immune system strong.
- Since smoking is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis, quitting is essential to allow the lungs to heal.
Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the membranes of the airways. It is characterized by a persistent cough that is sometimes accompanied by mucus. The condition usually heals by itself after a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis is usually caused by smoking. Quitting is vital for the body to heal.
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