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Bronchitis

How Is Bronchitis Treated?

Last updated on:
20/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for chronic bronchitis. Most treatment is focused on making the symptoms less severe and trying to prevent further damage. Treatment involves:

Lifestyle Changes

The first and probably the most important treatment is to stop smoking. Quitting smoking is a two-step process that includes getting over the physical addiction to nicotine and breaking the psychological aspects of the smoking habit.

Nicotine replacement therapy helps take care of the nicotine addiction so that the smoker can work on breaking the habit. Research has shown that smokers who use some form of nicotine replacement therapy and participate in a behavior change program can double their chances of quitting for good.

For more information about quitting smoking, go to Smoking: How To Stop.

A change in environment or job may be necessary if you work in an area that has heavy concentrations of dust or chemicals. Studies show that second-hand smoke can also make bronchitis worse, so others in your household may need to quit smoking.

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe medications that either are inhaled or taken by mouth. They include:

  • Bronchodilators to open your airways. The two main classes of bronchodilators are beta-agonists (which relax the muscles surrounding the airways) and anticholinergics (which block the chemical our bodies use to contract the airways). The combination of these two classes of drugs may be more effective than either of them used alone.
  • Corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation, swelling and phlegm production. There also are a minority of people who respond to oral or inhaled corticosteroids. Your doctor may start a short trial to determine if you will respond to corticosteroids. A typical trial lasts two to three weeks.
  • Expectorants are used to stop the cough that often accompanies chronic bronchitis. They also help make the phlegm more liquid and easier to get out of the lungs. The use of expectorants is controversial.
  • Antibiotics are not usually used to treat the disease itself. However, since the thick phlegm that is usually seen with chronic bronchitis is a good breeding ground for bacteria, people with this disease are more likely to get lung infections that would require antibiotics.

Self-Care And Alternative Treatments

Treatments that you can try yourself include:

  • Taking a hot shower or bath, draping a towel over your head and breathing the steam from a bowl of hot water, or running a humidifier in the bedroom during sleep. These can provide moisture that airways need to stay clear.
  • Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water helps keep the secretions in the lungs liquid. Drinking hot liquids such as teas can also help remove phlegm from the lungs. Cold liquids tend to irritate the airways because of proximity of the esophagus to the trachea in the neck and upper chest.
  • Respiratory therapists sometimes have their patients blow into a device with an adjustable valve that exercises the lungs in the same way as blowing up balloons.
  • Some practitioners believe that red peppers, curry, and other spicy foods that make the eyes water or nose run can help to thin mucus secretions but this is very controversial.

Oxygen

As the disease progresses, it may become necessary to rely on supplemental oxygen supplied through portable or stationary tanks. However, simple bronchitis, i.e., bronchitis without emphysema, will rarely require chronic oxygen therapy.

  • Some people may need continuous oxygen throughout the entire day.
  • Others may only need supplemental oxygen at certain times, such as when exercising or during sleep.

Usually a combination of portable and stationary oxygen systems will be used. There are several options including: the concentrator, an electrical device that extracts oxygen from the air; lightweight compressed gas systems particularly with demand valves; and liquid oxygen.

Need To Know:

Oxygen, though not a fire hazard itself allows fires to burn faster and hotter. Hence, some hotels and residences do not allow its use. No one should smoke near an oxygen tank, and tanks should be stored safely secured to a wall and away from heaters and furnaces.

Oxygen is usually administered to people in one of three ways:

  • A nasal canula, which is a tube coming from the tank with small prongs that fit in the nose; this is by far the most common mode of administration.
  • A transtracheal catheter, which is a tube that is surgically placed in the throat to deliver oxygen directly to the lungs
  • An electronic device (flow demand valve) that senses the beginning of a breath and delivers a pulse of oxygen
 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.