Any word ending in ‘itis’ means something is inflamed, in the case of bronchitis, it is the bronchi, the air passages that lead to the lungs. Shaped like an upside down tree, the trunk of the bronchi is your trachea or throat, then it bisects into two, one for each lung, thereafter becoming a network of smaller branches or passageways known as the bronchioles that eventually end in alveoli, the small sacs where oxygen moves from the air we breathe into the bloodstream. You can have just one attack of acute bronchitis or suffer symptoms that last more than three months, whereupon you have chronic bronchitis. If an attack of bronchitis is not managed it can lead to pneumonia where the lungs themselves are affected. Chronic bronchitis may recur annually and if left untreated can result in emphysema when the damage has become irreversible.
- Initial symptoms of acute bronchitis may be a chill, slight fever, back and muscle pain and a sore throat.
- Gradually a cough develops, starting as dry and non-productive progressing to productive.
- Acute bronchitis improves within 3 to 5 days, although the cough may linger for weeks.
- Chronic bronchitis involves excess secretion of mucus and eventually a thickening of the bronchial wall. When this happens, the wall becomes less flexible and prone to further infections, difficulty breathing, pneumonia and ultimately heart failure – a path no one wants to tread.
What causes it?
– Viral infection similar to a cold and flu virus. – Bacterial infection, usually secondary to a viral infection. – A reaction to an allergen or an irritating substance in the air such as dust, smoke, ammonia.
What to do
- Drink between 2 to 3 litres of clear liquids daily. Fluid makes the mucus less sticky, enabling easy elimination. Hot clear fluids are good too, such as hot honey and lemon, herbal teas, broths, miso soup, spicy soup and chicken soup.
- Try the following tea, which is excellent for any inflammation and infection of the respiratory tract, including bronchitis.
- Juice of one lemon
- Rind of half the lemon, chopped
- 1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
- 1 handful of fresh thyme, crushed
- 3 cm of fresh ginger root, grated
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey
Add 1 litre of boiling water and stand for 5 minutes. Avoid dairy products if they increase mucus. For some people they do, others not. Eat fresh pineapples and drink pineapple juice. Pineapples contain bromelain, a substance that helps to break down mucus. Foods that are good for the lungs and bronchi include onion, garlic, pepper, aniseed and cinnamon
- Onion syrup helps to soothe the mucous membranes lining throat and lungs, and is also helpful if you are coughing a lot. Take one dessertspoon every hour or so. Excellent for children with bronchitis, bring the dose down a teaspoon. To make onion cough syrup: roughly chop an onion (red, brown or white) and place into a bowl. Pour over some runny honey until covered. Leave in warm place for a few hours or overnight. Onions are part of the Allium family, as is garlic, and they both have bug-killing and mucus thinning properties.
- Herbs that help soothe the airways and boost immunity include: mullein, grindelia, licorice, thyme, marshmallow, sundew, euphorbia, elder, white horehound and garlic.
- Quercetin is known for its ability to reduce inflammation often associated with allergies and respiratory complaints.
- Cod liver oil, containing vitamin A (for mucous membrane support) and vitamin D for immunity, is helpful for preventing coughs. Good for children too. Now available in capsule form, rather than the psychologically scarring spoonful dosage of yesteryear.
- Humidifiers, available from chemists, help to moisten the airways and allow for a peaceful night’s sleep. Add a dab of Vicks or a few drops of essential oil to the water in the humidifier: eucalyptus and/or thyme oil for an infection, lavender for a calming effect.
- If your cough is driving you (and those around you) mad, try the following breathing exercise. Coughing can be caused by a spasm in the smooth muscles that line the airway. Switching on the parasympathetic nervous system by a slight increase in carbon dioxide, relaxes the smooth muscle and stops the coughing. Sounds simple? It is. Try this. Close your mouth. Take a small breath in, then out. With thumb and forefinger of one hand gently hold your nose closed for 5 seconds. Release and relax for 10 seconds, breathing gently through your nose. Repeat 10 times or until the coughing stops.
- Buteyko breathing
- Steam inhalation. Once or twice a day, and definitely before bed, have a steam inhalation to relax the airways and help elimination of mucus. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of Vicks or eucalyptus oil. Place the pot of water on a table. Sit close by, draping a towel over your head and the pot. Keeping some distance from the water to prevent burning, breathe the vapours in through your nose. Stay for as long as comfortable.
- 2 drops of everlasting has cough relieving and mucus thinning properties as well as being anti-tussive expectorant, mucolytic, anti-inflammatory.
- 4 drops of sandalwood – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, reduces congestion.
- 4 drops of cajeput – analgesic, febrifuge, antiseptic, expectorant antispasmodic.
- 6 drops of ravensara – antimicrobial, antiviral antiseptic, immune stimulant, expectorant.
- Use this blend as a chest rub mixed into a neutral balm or gel, applying to the chest and back as needed.
- Use 6 drops of the essential oil blend on a tissue as a dry inhalation or in a bowl of steaming water as a steam inhalation. The essential oil blend can also be used as a room vaporiser.
At a glance
- Drink at least 2 litres of clear fluid to allow for easy elimination of mucus. Hot fluids are best. Drink 3 cups of the lemon brew in the section on Diet above.
- Lung and bronchi-friendly foods include pineapple, onion, garlic, pepper, aniseed and cinnamon.
- Onion cough syrup soothing for the mucous membranes lining the airways. See recipe in section on Remedies above.
- Herbs for a cough include Mullein, grindelia, licorice, thyme, marshmallow, sundew, euphorbia, elder, white horehound and garlic. Take as tablet, tincture or tea form.
- A steam inhalation, especially at night will help clear the airways and allow for a restful cough-free sleep. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of Vicks or eucalyptus oil. Place the pot of water on a table. Sit close by, draping a towel over your head and the pot. Keeping some distance from the water to prevent burning, breathe the vapours in through your nose.