Do you feel like you’ve been coughing and coughing AND COUGHING with no end in sight? Are you tired from waking up in the middle of night in the middle of a coughing, phlegmy fit? Did you, by chance, just get over a cold or the flu and the cough remains? Or are you a smoker who’s constantly coughing – especially in the morning?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you my friend may have bronchitis.
BRONCHITIS?! Yes. Possibly bronchitis. But, it’s not the plague You will survive and live to tell the tale. Trust me.
Medically speaking (and according the handy-dandy interwebs doctor people on the Mayo Clinic’s website) bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways connecting our lungs and our trachea. The inflammation can be caused by any number of irritants, but the symptoms are generally the same: shortness of breath, an itchy and/or burning feeling in your chest, a rattling sound when you breathe, chills and fever, the overwhelming need to cough, and phlegm that comes out when coughing. It really sucks, I know. I’ve had it multiple times and for multiple reasons.
The Sputum Rainbow
Sputum is the substance that is coughed up when you have a respiratory infection. It is a combination of mucus, saliva, and phlegm. A doctor can tell a lot by the color and consistency of the sputum:
- Blood means that you have ruptured vessels somewhere and could be a sign of chronic bronchitis or Tuberculosis, which you really don’t want.
- Rusty brown might be a sign of pneumonia-causing bacteria—also a bad thing.
- Yellow-green could be a sign of an acute bacterial infection or chronic bronchitis.
- White might indicate a viral infection.
- A foamy consistency could mean that you have fluid build-up or obstruction in the airway.
Getting Rid of Bronchitis
What kind of bronchitis do you have? The first step in getting rid of bronchitis is to figure out what kind of bronchitis you have. Have you had any other respiratory illnesses lately? The common cold, a sinus infection, influenza, or pneumonia? Yes? It may be the culprit in bringing upon your bronchitis. The only way to be sure is to have a doctor look you over. With proper testing, it can usually be determined which kind of bronchitis you are afflicted with: viral, bacterial, or environmental.
Most bronchitis is viral in origin. For the most part, no medicine will cure a case of viral bronchitis. The same viruses that cause the common cold (rhino virus) or the flu (influenza virus) can take up residence in the mucus membrane, and will eventually die off in a few weeks. If you have a prior health concern – asthma, heart disease, a compromised immune system – you should definitely call your doctor.
The most common approach is to treat the symptoms. If you have nasal congestion, take a decongestant, like Robitussun. If it’s a headache, sore throat, or swelling that’s bothering you the most, take ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). If you have some sputum (phlegm) stuck in your chest you want help clearing out, take an expectorant (Sudafed).
Bronchitis is very rarely caused by bacteria. According to the kindly doctor folks again at the Mayo Clinic website, less than 10 percent of bronchitis cases are caused by a bacterial infection. These are some of the same bacteria that cause bacterial pneumonia – inflammation of the lung tissue. Pneumonia is a miserable and dangerous condition. However, if it is diagnosed and treated properly with the right antibiotics (assuming the bacteria aren’t resistant), the outlook is good for both bacterial bronchitis and pneumonia.
Bronchitis can be caused by your environment, too.Pollutants such as smog and extended exposure to cold temperatures are not good for our respiratory systems. Toxic vapors, dust, and smoke from manufacturing, mining, construction, or grain harvesting jobs can also contribute.
The most common cause of chronic (read: not caused by a virus, but constant irritation) bronchitis is the intentional or secondary inhalation of tobacco smoke. The American Lung Association states that in 2009, it was estimated that 9.9 million Americans reported a physician diagnosis.
Keep on coughing. Cough suppressants (like Sucrets or any cough drop) can give you some relief, but you’ll want to keep coughing to clear the crap out. As long as a cough is productive (another way of saying phlegmy), it’s good for your body. If becomes dry, wheezy-sounding, or if there is ever severe pain or blood in the sputum, you should get things checked out pronto.
If you can’t seem to shake the illness, you might have chronic bronchitis. Generally speaking, this cough is worse in the morning and in damp, cold weather. You may cough up an ounce or more of yellow mucus each day (again…eeewwww). If the cough persists for more than three months in any given year, you have what is called chronic bronchitis. This means that your bronchitis is probably the result of some kind of injury or persistent irritation, like smoking. Or it could have been all of the coughing you did when your illness started that caused the injury, maybe even the result of an exposure to one of the environmental hazards listed above. Or damage from a particularly bad allergic reaction. There are medications, such as corticosteroids and bronchodilators, which can alleviate these symptoms. However, the best way to prevent flare-ups is to avoid and remove yourself from whatever caused the problem in the first place.
Natural Methods for Getting Rid of Bronchitis
Quit smoking. The number one thing The American Lung Association says that you can do to help you get rid of chronic bronchitis is to quit smoking and stay away from smoke and other pollutants. This is kind of an obvious bit of advice, but some that should be heeded. Any smoke you inhale is going to exacerbate an existing irritation, and enough exposure will definitely cause a new one.
Humidifiers. Having enough humidity in a room will help keep your cough productive, which will help get that crap out of your lungs. It will also cut down on irritation to other parts of your airways by keeping them from drying out. Taking hot baths and showers will help with this, too.
Teas and herbs. We need a lot of liquids when we are sick, and drinking a cup of warm something can be soothing when you are suffering from respiratory problems. Adding some ginger or citrus and honey to the mix helps to lubricate the throat, and can act as a natural expectorant. Ginger, lemon, thyme, bay leaf, savory, onions, and almonds are all said to have positive attributes in this situation. They might mix well together – but I wouldn’t chance it, otherwise you might toss your cookies.
Get some rest.As with any illness, it is very important to get enough rest. The less energy you expend, the more energy your body has available to make you feel better. Besides that, in the safety of your home, you can control what you are exposed to as far as potential irritants. And don’t forget to limit interactions with people.