An introduction to bronchitis & cough
Bronchitis is a condition that occurs when an irritant or infection causes inflammation and swelling to the lining of the bronchial tubes (the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs). As the irritated membranes of the bronchi swell and grow thicker, the tiny airways of the lungs become restricted.
This inflammation can also cause the membranes in the lining to start producing excess mucus, clogging the bronchi and restricting airflow to the lungs further.
The first sign of bronchitis is usually a deep, persistent cough. The cough typically starts off dry and hacking, but it can eventually turn into a productive cough, which brings up mucus.
Why does bronchitis cause a cough?
Coughing is a reflex mechanism and the body’s way of clearing foreign material, irritants and mucus from your airways (bronchial tubes) and lungs. When airways are inflamed and irritated by bronchitis, coughing also helps to move any excess mucus upwards to where it can be expelled.
Constant coughing can be extremely debilitating and painful and it can contribute to other symptoms of bronchitis, including chest discomfort and fatigue, especially if you are struggling to sleep due to persistent night-time coughing.
While the symptoms of acute bronchitis usually only last a few days or weeks at the most; some people may find that a dry cough can linger for longer while the airways heal.
Although acute bronchitis can cause a lingering cough, if it lasts longer than 3 weeks it could be a sign of other, more serious conditions such as pneumonia, so it’s important to consult your doctor if your cough persists.
A daily productive (mucus-producing) cough, which lasts for up to 3 months or more, for 2 years in a row, could also be a sign of chronic bronchitis, which is a long-term, serious condition.
Are there any self-help measures?
Since coughing is your body’s way of naturally getting rid of infections and irritants it’s important not to suppress this action. However, there are ways in which you can help make your cough more bearable. You should:
Let yourself cough: Although far from pleasant, the act of coughing when you have bronchitis helps expel the infection from your lungs, so it’s important not to suppress it with cough suppressants, especially if it is a productive (mucus-producing) cough, unless it is preventing you from sleeping.
Get plenty of rest: Your body needs time to recover, especially if your acute bronchitis is being caused by an infection. Fighting off infection and the healing process takes its toll on your body and your energy supply, so it’s important to rest as much as possible and not over-exert yourself.
Prop yourself up with some extra pillows when you sleep: When it comes to a night-time cough, gravity is your enemy. When lying down mucus can build up and collect at the back of your throat, making coughing worse. Just raising your head can restrict your breathing further; instead, arrange your pillows so that your shoulders, neck and head are slightly raised to allow mucus to drain away.
Drink plenty of water: Water is a natural expectorant. It can help loosen and thin mucus, making it easier to cough up. Furthermore, if you are dehydrated, mucus will become thicker, making it harder to bring up.
Drinking plenty of fluids can also help to keep mucous membranes moist and keeps mucus from collecting in the respiratory tract. Warm drinks such as herbal teas and broths can also help to soothe irritated airways.
Reduce mucus production: Excess amounts of mucus often occur as your condition progresses, which can cause you to cough more.
If you are bringing up mucus when you cough it is important to take measures to help your body reduce mucus production and thin mucus to allow you to cough it up more easily. Take a look at our mucus self-help measures for lots of mucus reducing tips.
Avoid cold air: Cold air often aggravates coughing. Wearing a scarf, which covers your mouth when it’s cold outside will not only keep you warm, it can help to prevent coughing by warming the cold air up before you breathe it in.
Avoid dry air and breath in warm air: Dry air also aggravates coughing, but warm, moist, humidified air can help soothe the irritated lining of the bronchial tubes by keeping them hydrated. This can help to reduce the cough reflex and it can also help to loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up.
Try using a humidifier or vaporiser. A vaporiser works by heating water until it turns into hot steam, whilst a humidifier adds moisture to the air.
Use steam: Inhaling steam can help to moisturise your airways and loosen any congestion, which can help soothe the urge to cough. Steam methods include creating a steam tent by lowering your face over a bowl filled with hot water, placing a towel over your head and bowl and inhaling the steam; or you could try taking a hot shower or bath.
You can add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil to your steam tent, to aid further in soothing your airways. These can also help to loosen and thin any mucus, making it easier to cough up.
Eat soup: Eating a warm broth such as chicken soup helps reduce inflammation, soothe irritation and ease congestion – all of which cause you to cough.
If you smoke, QUIT or try to smoke less: Smoking irritates your already irritated bronchial tubes and triggers your coughing reflex more. It also suppresses your immune response, which hinders your recovery time.
Avoid breathing in other irritants: Chemical fumes from paint, household cleaners, air fresheners and pollution are examples of airborne irritants which, when breathed in, can all irritate your airways further, making you cough more.
Use a tissue when coughing: Use a tissue when you cough if your acute bronchitis is being caused by an infection, to avoid spreading germs through the air, and wash your hands regularly.
Are there any herbal remedies to help me?
Persistent coughs are often one of the most prominent symptoms of bronchitis; these coughs may or may not be accompanied by the production of mucus.
Firstly, coughs with lots of mucus are known as productive coughs. If you experience a chesty or mucus cough, use the herbs Ivy and Thyme found in Bronchoforce to help ease your symptoms.
Ivy is naturally anti-spasmodic and can work well to help loosen any stubborn mucus, whilst thyme is gently anti-septic, helping to thin any mucus, making it easier to expel.
If an infection is likely to be exacerbating a chesty cough (this is particularly common in cases of acute bronchitis), then Echinaforce, in combination with Bronchoforce, may be a good option for you.
Echinaforce can help to minimise the duration and severity of your symptoms, whilst also supporting your immune system longer-term.
Finally, instead, if a dry, persistent cough is your main symptom (often more likely in cases of chronic bronchitis) then Bronchosan Pine Cough Syrup may be helpful.
Made from fresh spruce shoots combined with honey, this fragrant mix helps to move any stubborn mucus, whilst also helping to soothe the length of your respiratory tract.
What about conventional medicines?
As well as self-help measures and herbal remedies, there are some conventional medicines that your doctor or pharmacist may recommend to help ease your cough. These include:
Expectorants: This type of cough medicine can help make it easier to cough up mucus if you have a productive (mucus-producing) cough.
Suppressants: If your cough is productive (mucus-producing), don’t use a cough suppressant, unless your doctor recommends it. However, if you have a persistent dry hacking cough, then a cough suppressant may be helpful. Cough suppressants reduce the activity of the cough reflex.
Antibiotics: These will only be prescribed if your doctor thinks your acute bronchitis is being caused by a bacterial infection.
Cough drops: Sucking a menthol cough lozenge can help to numb the back of the throat, which reduces the cough reflex. Cough drops can also help to keep your airways moist, reducing the irritation and making you less prone to coughing.
Dry cough syrups: If your cough is dry and hacking, cough syrups can help to coat your throat and airways, reducing the irritation causing your cough.