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Feel better in no time with these expert-approved bronchitis treatments.
Bronchitis is one of the most common illnesses in the world, so chances are, you’ve had it at some point. And if you have, you know what a pain its symptoms can be—persistent coughing, heavy congestion, and nasty phlegm, to name a few.
“Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the large airways of the lungs,” says Wassim Labaki, MD, a pulmonologist at the University of Michigan Pulmonary Clinic. It’s usually caused by a viral infection, and aside from coughing, congestion, and sputum, it can also be accompanied by headaches, a sore or itchy throat, fatigue, and muscle aches.
It makes sense, then, why bronchitis is a common diagnosis for those who hit up their doctors once those symptoms present. “Viral upper respiratory infections (bronchitis) account for over 30 million office visits per year,” says Philip Barr, MD, an integrative medicine physician at Duke University.
But the truth is, if you visit your doctor for treatment of your bronchitis, he or she is likely to point you right back to your medicine cabinet at home, since antibiotics don’t help treat viral infections, says Dr. Barr.
However, it’s still a good idea to visit your doc if you’re experiencing bronchitis-like symptoms, since he or she will need to consider other non-viral causes, such as bacteria and non-infectious causes, says Dr. Barr. But chances are, you can treat the symptoms right from the comfort of your own bed. Here, 10 home remedies for bronchitis that will have you feeling better in no time.
This is especially true if you’re experiencing bronchitis during the dry, colder months. A humidifier helps keep moisture in the air, which will ultimately ease your nasal congestion. “Using a humidifier can be helpful, especially as fall rolls in and we start turning on the drying heat in our homes,” says Dr. Barr. “The drying effect of a home’s heat can make the mucous take longer to clear.”
Want to go double duty? “Running a humidifier with essential oils may help thin mucus and ease coughing,” says Jonathan Parsons, MD, director of the Asthma Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Although its effectiveness has yet to be validated through large studies, it could still provide a sense of relief.
There are two types of cough medicine: cough suppressants, which are used for a dry cough, and expectorants, which are used for a wet cough that brings up mucus, says Dr. Parsons. For something like bronchitis, you’re going to want to find a cough medicine with expectorant (like Mucinex or Robitussin) since that will help “bring up” mucus.
Just keep in mind that a typical cold medicine won’t cure your bronchitis, but it will still definitely help curb the symptoms. “Over-the-counter medicines are simply supportive and help minimize symptoms, but do not make the bronchitis resolve more quickly,” says Dr. Parsons.
This is one doctors say is key to overcoming bronchitis. “Drinking eight or more glasses of water daily is helpful,” says Dr. Barr. The thought is that by drinking water, you’re able to replace fluids you might’ve lost because of rapid breathing, and it can help treat dehydration and reduce the viscosity of your mucus, according to a review by Cochrane. Just note that there is still a need for randomized, controlled studies to prove the benefits of drinking more fluids, so consult with your doctor before dramatically upping your intake.
If your mom ever gave you tea with honey before bed to help ease your cough, she was on the right track. Tea helps you stay hydrated, says Dr. Labaki, and honey has some research backing its benefits for coughs. (Check out these teas that may help soothe a sore throat.)
In one study, children with respiratory infections were given honey before bed, and it significantly improved their ability to sleep while experiencing coughing. Plus, if nothing else, the honey can give your tea a sweet kick.
Sleep is core to getting over any illness, bronchitis included. As for the amount? “At least seven to eight hours a day,” says Dr. Labaki.
A lack of sleep—in other words, sleeping less than 5 hours per night—has been associated with an increased likelihood of developing a respiratory infection, according to a 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, potentially due to the effect inadequate sleep has on your immune system. Notably, there was no association with those who slept more than 9 hours a night, the researchers found.
The bottom line? If you’re experiencing bronchitis, get to bed! And if you want to sleep even more soundly, run a humidifier during the night, suggests Dr. Barr.
Supplements are broken up into three categories: vitamins, minerals, and herbs, says Dr. Barr. The one vitamin that seems to show the most promise? Vitamin C. “Many research trials have been done and at least half show benefit,” says Dr. Barr.
When you’re not felling well, you can start by supplementing up to 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day, which is the tolerable upper intake level for most adults. Any more than that won’t necessarily be harmful, but you may experience some side effects like nausea, diarrhea, or constipation—not ideal if you’re already feeling sick.
However, Dr. Barr says that taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times daily yields effective results when it comes to reducing symptoms, so check in with your doc if you want to try and amp up your dosage. If you feel any side effects, just dial it back.
You can also try accompanying that vitamin C with vitamin D-3. “Vitamin D-3 has immune-enhancing qualities,” says Dr. Barr, but note that those qualities are usually more affiliated with influenza as opposed to a common cold or an illness like bronchitis. Consult with your doctor about dosage, as it can from 2,000 to 5,000 international units (IUs) per day.
Certain minerals can also be helpful in curbing your bronchitis symptoms. “The main beneficial mineral is zinc, taken as zinc gluconate 15 to 25 milligrams daily,” says Dr. Barr. You can easily find that amount in two Cold-Eeze Lozenges.
Other forms of zinc have also shown promise. In one 2016 study, researchers found that among 100 children with acute bronchitis, nearly all of those who took oral zinc sulphate made a fully recovery within 72 hours of beginning their treatment compared to kids who simply took a placebo.
⚠️ Note: You should always check in with your doctor before trying a new supplement, especially if you are taking prescription medications.
“Many herbs have been reported to provide benefit,” says Dr. Barr. “Most significantly, with supportive research, has been Echinacea as a tincture, tea, or capsule.” Just make sure you’re consuming the herbs as directed on the package.
Therapeutic medicinal mushrooms may also be a good route—especially Basidiomycete mycelia—but chat with your doctor before using, as its validation is still in the works. “The research is just beginning to be carried out for viruses,” says Dr. Barr.
Mom was right again! Chicken soup actually can help you get rid of those pesky bronchitis symptoms. “Chicken soup has actually been researched and shows some benefit,” says Dr. Barr. “I would recommend free-range, organically fed poultry.”
In fact, one study found that chicken soup might contain some substances that help tamp down inflammation, which could help ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
It might sound counterintuitive—especially if you’re super tired and coughing constantly—but light exercise can be helpful in combating bronchitis. Just make sure you’re not doing anything super strenuous, like training for a marathon. “Keeping up a light but regular exercise regimen is helpful,” says Dr. Barr. That means more gentle activities, like yoga, slower pilates, or lifting lighter weights. Even getting up and walking your dog can help you get some fresh air.
Just make sure that if you’re not feeling it those first few days of being sick, you let yourself rest. “The initial muscle and joint pain, in addition to the generalized malaise and fatigue, usually make it hard to exercise during the first couple of days,” says Dr. Labaki. So take it easy if you need to, and then gradually get back in an exercise routine.
So you’ve already made that chicken soup, and now you have some steaming kitchen tools in your purview. Possibly the easiest home remedy for bronchitis? Inhale those vapors to help loosen up mucus and suppress a cough.
Just be careful not to burn yourself, says Dr. Barr. Simply stand above the pot or kettle, and place a light towel over your head to create a bit of a tent. Inhale the steam until it completely evaporates.
Similar to a humidifier, there might also be a benefit of adding aromatherapy to those vapors, such as eucalyptus oil, but the research is still lagging. If you have medicated VapoRub at your disposal, you can also try adding a teaspoon of that into a pot of clean boiling water. Let it cool for a minute, and continue with inhaling the steam, Woodson Merrell, MD, author of The Detox Prescription .
Bronchitis requires professional medical attention when: