Acute bronchitis is an infection causing inflammation of the lung’s airways and is one of the most common of human ailments.
It usually begins with head cold symptoms such as a runny nose, sinus congestion, or a sore throat. It is almost always caused by a virus and rarely by bacteria. If a cough is not due to pneumonia, influenza, or asthma, it is most likely what we call bronchitis.
Most people actually feel fairly well with bronchitis, except for having a persistent, nagging cough. Fever is rare and mucus production may or may not be present.
A very common misperception is that colored mucus — especially green — indicates a bacterial infection and therefore the need for antibiotics. Recent scientific evidence supports that virus infections also produce green mucus.
Those who smoke are much more susceptible to bronchitis because of the damage done by the smoke to the lining of the breathing tubes of the lungs. This allows germs to enter the lungs more easily, causing an infection.
Many patients request antibiotics in hopes of quickly ridding themselves of the cough and therefore visit their doctor as soon as symptoms begin so that they may “nip it in the bud.”
Some think that antibiotics helped them on previous occasions, but there is no proven benefit for these drugs in the treatment of bronchitis.
Inappropriate antibiotic use can cause unnecessary side effects — diarrhea and yeast infections to mention a few — increase the cost of medical care, and lead to the development of resistant germs.
This means that many of our commonly used antibiotics are no longer effective against many germs and there are very few new and extremely expensive antibiotics being developed. That’s a scary situation.
Treatment for bronchitis is directed towards relieving the symptoms. For the head cold symptoms that come with bronchitis, an oral decongestant pill such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) as well as a decongestant nasal spray, such as Afrin (oxymetazoline hydrochloride), can be used to combat nasal and sinus congestion.
Afrin spray works well to open up clogged nasal passages but should not be used for more than one week to avoid rebound (worsening) congestion. Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) can be used for the relief of aches and pains. Drinking plenty of liquids has proven to loosen mucus.
For cough symptoms, over-the-counter cough medicines with dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin DM or Vicks 44 may be helpful.
A recent study has recommended the use of a natural cough remedy using a mixture of 5 parts honey and one part instant coffee crystals. Take one tablespoon of the mixture in about 6 ounces of water every 6 hours for cough.
Also, for a cough that makes the lungs feel tight or wheezy, a doctor may prescribe a brief course of an inhaled medication commonly used for asthmatics.
In summary, most coughs that we call bronchitis can last at least 3 weeks, are almost always caused by a virus, and antibiotic treatment is not helpful. However, if at any time you have a cough with a fever, you should see your doctor.