Coughing, wheezing, mucus, breathlessness, chest pain, does this sound familiar? Do you make a barking sound when you cough or laugh? Then pay attention because you could be suffering from a little more than the common cold. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute defines bronchitis as the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or the tubes that carry air to our lungs. The American Lung Association reveals that in 2008 approximately 9.8 million Americans had a doctorsí diagnosis of chronic bronchitis, the most severe form of the condition. So how serious is bronchitis? Is there anything we can do to prevent it? Can natural remedies help?
What is bronchitis?
There are two types of bronchitis, acute (short term) and chronic (long term) bronchitis. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains that the same virus that causes common colds can provoke acute bronchitis. Symptoms include coughing, mild fever and tiredness. This generally lasts 10 days while the cough associated with it may last after the infection has gone. Most cases of acute bronchitis go away within a short period. The elderly, young infants and children are most prone to it due to their lower immune defenses.
The Institute explains that chronic bronchitis is a much more serious condition and is ongoing, occurring when the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed. When this irritation occurs, mucus develops in the tubes. This mucus can obstruct the airway and make it difficult to breathe. These irritated tubes can also be easily infected and aggravated by viruses and bacteria. Patients with bronchitis can also develop the long-term progressive condition of Emphysema or the over-inflation of the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs which is the most common cause of death by respiratory illness in the United States. Chronic bronchitis is more common in patients over 45, says the Association.
What causes bronchitis?
We have seen that the common cold virus can cause acute bronchitis however this is not the only trigger. The American Lung Association also reminds us that inhaling irritants such as cigarette or cigar smoke,hookah smoke, air pollution, dusts, vapors, or fumes from an explosion or big fire can also provoke the condition. (Read about the surprising source of most household dust.)
Chronic bronchitis can occur when such irritants are inhaled over a long period of time, explains the Association. However, the chief cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. During the Nurses Health Study, which began in 1976, a ten year investigation of almost 800 participants with new-onset chronic bronchitis was conducted. The study found that the highest incidence of new onset chronic bronchitis occurred among smokers with the lowest incidence occurring among non smokers. With smoking, it is the chemicals in the cigarette which include nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, ambergris, benzene and hydrogen cyanide that inflame the bronchial tube and cause it to swell and mucus to develop.
Are there natural cures for bronchitis?
Studies suggest that there are natural remedies for both forms of bronchitis. However, before embarking on a course of self-medication, it is always a good idea to consult a health-care professional. Here are 10 natural remedies for bronchitis:
1. Ivy Leaf
A 2007 German carried out by Hannover based specialist in pediatrics, Dr Olav Marzian, set out the curative properties of ivy leaf on children and adolescents with acute bronchitis due to its non-demulcent anti-inflammatory qualities, particularly when administered in a syrup mixed with thyme.
A 2006 study carried out by Hallym University, Republic of Korea, looked at the potential benefits of licorice extracts on acute bronchitis among other inflammatory conditions. The study set out that licorice as an anti-inflammatory can be beneficial for those suffering from bronchitis. is an expectorant, which helps to loosen bronchial secretions and make the elimination of mucus easier, in patients with bronchitis.
Extracts of leaves from the Butterbur plant, a member of the daisy family, has been shown to reduce the mucus associated with bronchitis by a 1998 Polish study conducted at Physiopulmonary County Hospital, Szczecin-Zdunowo.
A 1998 German study carried out by the Center for Complementary Medicine Research, Technische Universitšt, Munich, concluded that a 10-20% reduced risk of upper respiratory tract infections could be speculated from the consumption of Echinacea, an herbaceous flowering plant from the daisy family. However, researchers clarified that further studies would be required to adequately support these findings. Echinacea can be consumed in tablet and drop form.
Mullein is a common wildflower that, since the middle ages, has been used to treat respiratory ailments. A 2000 Bulgarian study found that it contains chemical compounds called saponins that can break down the mucus associated with bronchitis. Mullein can be ingested in the tea form with 1-2 teaspoons of dried leaves added to a cup of boiling water,
A 2007 Indian study supported the centuries-old belief that Turmeric, the yellow spice and member of the ginger family, gives relief from the congestion associated with both forms of bronchitis. One teaspoon of turmeric can be mixed with a glass of milk and taken by the patient.
7. Vitamin C
A 1999 Finnish study revealed that Vitamin C, as a strong antioxidant, is effective in preventing bronchitis and also has therapeutic effects on participants already suffering from the condition. The United States Department of Agriculture lists citrus fruits, broccoli and Brussels sprouts as important sources of Vitamin C.
8. Essential Oils
A 2008 Israeli study found that the essential oils of some aromatic medicinal plants such as Eucalyptus have a beneficial effect on respiratory ailments such as bronchitis due to their anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral activities properties. The study found that these oils are beneficial not only in the respiratory tract but also have a positive effect on the coughing reflex and the airflow in the nasal tract.
9. Quit smoking
A Taiwanese study published in 2010 also found that cigarette smoking was an important factor in the development of chronic bronchitis in smokers and also in those inhaling second-hand smoke. This suggests that quitting smoking is an important way to reduce the risk of the condition.
10. Blow up a balloon
A 1992 study carried out at Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, England, concluded that blowing up balloons is an effective way to improve the breathlessness associated with chronic bronchitis. The study found that after eight weeks of blowing up balloons 40 times a day the 13 patients in the study group had a significant reduction in breathlessness.
11. The Leaf of the Silverthorn Plant Helps Bronchitis and Asthma
The silverthorn plant, also known as Elaeagnus pungens can help treat asthma and chronic bronchitis . According to a 2009 study from the South-Central University for Nationalities in Wuhan, China, leaves of the silverthorn plant were found to reduce the cough associated with bronchitis. The only caveat --and this is an important one --is that if your asthma gets worse at night, herbs may not be as helpful.