Many people have suffered from bronchitis at one point or another, and know the discomfort that it can cause. But what exactly is bronchitis and are there natural therapies that can help? Read on to learn more.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs. The bronchi are the airways that connect the trachea to the lung tissue. The trachea connects to two main bronchi which branch off to form smaller airways called bronchi and bronchioles. The bronchi and bronchioles end at small sacs called alveoli, where oxygen is taken up by the blood. When bronchitis occurs, the airways become inflamed or produce extra mucus on the lining of the bronchi. Inflammation is generally caused by a viral infection or a secondary bacterial infection.
However, it can also occur by breathing in irritating substances such as pollutants, dust, and smoke. There are two types of bronchitis – acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis most often occurs in winter and it starts with tiredness and a sore throat, with a cough developing. It usually resolves in 7 to 10 days. Chronic bronchitis is bronchitis that goes on for a long time. It is defined as chronic bronchitis when cough and mucus production lasts for at least three months a year over two or more consecutive years. The coughing and mucus production can last longer each time the bronchitis recurs.
Who is Most Susceptible to Bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is common amongst people that smoke. It is 4 to 10 times more common in heavy smokers. People that suffer from other lung infections such as asthma are also more likely to contract bronchitis, as are people that suffer from chronic sinusitis.
As smoking is a major irritation to the lungs, it is strongly advised to quit, especially if you have chronic bronchitis. By quitting smoking, you can slow the rate that the chronic bronchitis progresses and you will improve your breathing, meaning that you should feel less breathless. Even in cases of acute bronchitis, you should stop smoking as you risk developing chronic bronchitis.
As above, the most important lifestyle change you can make is to quit smoking. Using a humidifier or steam can help to clear mucus from the lungs. It is recommended that you drink plenty of fluids and rest while the infection is active. If you have low levels of oxygen due to chronic bronchitis, home oxygen therapy may be prescribed.
Nutrition and Supplements
If you suffer from chronic bronchitis, it may be helpful to look at the foods that you eat to see if any of them are worsening your symptoms. For example, dairy products can increase mucus production so reducing your intake of dairy products or even eliminating them altogether can be of help. Other foods that you can try eliminating include eggs, nuts, food colouring, preservatives, and additives. If you are eliminating foods from your diet, keep a food diary so you can see exactly what effect different foods are having on you. Also ensure that you are getting nutrients from different sources, so that your diet remains balanced. Adding onions and garlic to your diet may help as these are potent infection-fighters.
Studies have shown that N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) may help to dissolve mucus and improve the symptoms associated with chronic bronchitis.
Adding more zinc to your diet or zinc supplementation may also be useful. This is because zinc enhances the immune system and help to protect against infections such as colds and upper respiratory infections.
Vitamin A helps to maintain the health of the cells that line the bronchial tubes, improving their structure and also the quality of mucus production.
Other supplements that may help prevent you catching bronchitis or relieve the symptoms of it include bromelain, lactobacillus, quercetin, and vitamin C.
Herbal medicine can be valuable in helping with bronchitis. However, herbs contain substances that can interfere with medications, supplements or other herbs so you should talk to a practitioner that is knowledgeable in herbal medicine before taking any new herbs. Some herbs that can help include:
- Barberry – this can help to fight infection and improve immune function.
- Eucalyptus – eucalyptus oil helps to loosen phlegm so inhaling the vapours of this can help with bronchitis.
- Peppermint – is an effective decongestant. It is also soothing and calming on sore throats and dry coughs.
- Slippery elm – is a safe and effective choice for helping with a sore through and respiratory symptoms.
- Stinging nettle – the active compounds in this can act as an expectorant and it may also have antiviral properties.
Other herbal medicines that may be considered by a practitioner for the treatment of bronchitis include:
Following are some homoeopathic remedies that may help with bronchitis:
- Aconitum – for the early stages of bronchitis.
- Antimonium tartaricum – for a wet, rattling cough that is accompanied by extreme fatigue and difficulty breathing.
- Bryonia – for a dry, painful cough that worsens with movement and deep inhalation.
- Hepar sulphuricum – for the later stages of bronchitis, with wheezing, poor mucus production, and coughing when it is cold.
- Ipecacuanha – for the earliest stages of bronchitis, when it is accompanied by a deep, wet cough, nausea, and vomiting.
- Phosphorus – for many different types of cough but usually a dry, harsh cough accompanied by a persistent tickle in the chest and significant chest pain.
Using a humidifier along with essential oil such as cedarwood, bergamot, eucalyptus, myrrh, sweet fennel, jasmine, lavender, tea tree, or marjoram may help to thin the mucus and help with the cough.
Acupuncture can help to relieve the symptoms of acute bronchitis and it can improve the quality of life for people that suffer from chronic bronchitis. The treatment is generally focused on the lung and spleen meridians. The aim is to clear the blockage of qi in the chest area.