Bronchitis is one of the top 10 most common infections.
In most cases, it is caused by a virus.
While you can’t speed healing, there are many effective home remedies to help ease symptoms of a chest cold and make you feel better.
In this article, we’ll explore 12 effective home remedies for bronchitis, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, and when to see a healthcare provider.
Warm fluids like water and tea can help to thin mucus, reducing chronic coughing.
When your airways are inflamed and congested, dry air can make symptoms worse.
A humidifier in your bedroom or where you spend most of the day can help loosen mucus and improve cough symptoms.
A cool mist humidifier or steam vaporizer are the best options.
Hot beverages can loosen mucus and improve coughing. Herbal tea has added benefits since many types have anti-inflammatory or immune-supporting properties.
Common herbal teas to try include echinacea, peppermint, chamomile, ginger, and elderberry.
While it can be hard to rest if you are coughing or having trouble breathing, it’s important to give your body time to recover.
This will help your immune system as it fights a viral infection.
Steam can break up mucus so you can breathe easier.
You can inhale steam in a hot bath or shower, or you can create a steam room by running hot water in a bathtub with the door closed.
Another way to inhale steam is to put hot water in a bowl, lean your head over, and place a towel over your head and the bowl.
This allows for concentrated exposure to steam, but use caution since this can be hotter than you expect.
Only use this method for 1-2 minutes at a time to avoid burning your face or airways.
If it feels too hot to comfortably breathe, let the water cool for a few minutes and try again.
Saline Nasal Spray
Saline nasal spray is a drug-free way to break up mucus congestion that makes it hard to breathe.
Unlike other nasal sprays that may lead to rebound congestion with overuse, saline nasal spray can be used as often as needed.
You can also use a neti pot with saline water for the same results.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports immune function and fights excessive inflammation damage in cells.
The tolerable upper intake of vitamin C for most adults is 2,000 milligrams (mg).
Taking more isn’t necessarily harmful but may cause diarrhea or upset stomach.
The body can only absorb so much vitamin C at one time, though, so it’s better to take smaller amounts of vitamin C throughout the day than all of it at once.
You can also eat vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers, citrus fruits, and berries.
Honey coats the throat and can work effectively to suppress coughing and throat irritation.
You can take it plain or add it to warm herbal tea.
Do not give honey to children under age 1, since it can lead to a serious infection known as botulism.
While essential oils should never be ingested, many of them serve as topical or inhaled relief for bronchitis symptoms.
The following essential oils may have benefits for respiratory infection aromatherapy or topical application when diluted with a carrier oil:
- Tea tree
Probiotics support the gut microbiome, which has a direct effect on respiratory and lung health.
Other research finds that probiotics do not reduce the incidence of infections but may be able to lessen symptom severity and duration of illness.
Animal and human studies confirm that not all probiotic strains have the same benefits.
The following strains show the most promise for decreasing viral inflammation:
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus kunkeei
Probiotic supplements can vary widely in how they are manufactured.
Read labels to check which strains are included, as this matters more than the dose.
Many herbs can support symptoms of bronchitis.
Since dietary supplements are not regulated for effectiveness by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), read labels carefully.
Ask your healthcare provider for trusted brand recommendations and always follow the package instructions on how to take them.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic has anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties and may be effective for addressing acute viral infections. Garlic should not be taken by people who are on blood thinning medication or who have sensitivities. Garlic capsules can be used, but supplements may contain other ingredients and may not be as effective as fresh garlic cloves.
- Turmeric: Turmeric has anti-inflammatory benefits because of its active ingredient, curcumin. It also contains antioxidants. Curcumin does not absorb well, and most research showing benefits for respiratory illness has been done in animals. Turmeric is generally safe to consume unless someone is on blood-thinning medication or has an allergy to turmeric or similar spices.
- Ginseng: Some research shows that ginseng may help with acute bronchitis infections because it has anti-inflammatory properties. This research was not placebo-controlled or double blind and only included 75 patients. Larger studies need to be done to determine effectiveness.
If home remedies are not effective, or you want to find additional support, there are many over-the-counter (OTC) medications for bronchitis.
- Expectorants: Guaifenesin (Mucinex) helps break up and clear excess mucus from the lungs and airways.
- OTC pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), and naproxen (Aleve) can help address pain and fever. NSAIDs like ibuprofen can also decrease inflammation and swelling.
When to See a Medical Provider
If at-home remedies or OTC medicines don’t help, a healthcare provider can prescribe medicine such as inhaled corticosteroids or bronchodilators to help.
If you have bronchitis that seems to be taking too long to get better, speak with a medical provider.
It is also possible to develop a secondary infection like pneumonia.
See a medical provider if any of the following occurs:
- Fever higher than 100.4ºF for longer than a few days
- Cough that lasts longer than a few weeks
- Pain when coughing
- Blood in mucus
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe headache
- Recurring bronchitis
- Chest pain
If you have underlying medical conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or other respiratory problems, see a medical provider to ensure that bronchitis does not cause complications.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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