Most healthy adults who become ill with acute bronchitis can recover at home. However, any worsening of symptoms or increasing trouble with breathing requires immediate medical attention Table 02.
Rarely, bronchitis may progress into a serious infection. It is important to contact a clinician immediately if signs of serious illness occur. These signs may include a temperature less than 95ºF (35ºC) or greater than 104ºF (40ºC), a resting pulse (heart rate) of 125 beats per minute or greater, or a resting breathing rate of 30 breaths per minute or more.
You should seek immediate medical attention if your lips or nail beds begin turning dusky, gray, or blue, or if you must work so hard to breathe that you become tired. Fainting or becoming confused or dizzy are also signs that hospitalization may be necessary. Oxygen, intravenous medications, and close monitoring may be required for those with severe illness.
Do not hesitate to seek immediate medical attention if you are concerned that your bronchitis is getting worse. Dial 911 or 0 for an ambulance for any significant trouble with breathing, or any dizziness or fainting. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital.
Table 2. What to Do If You Suspect Your Bronchitis May Be Serious
Call your doctor If the person with bronchitis is an infant or is elderly If you have lung or heart disease and develop an acute attack of bronchitis If you have a mild cough that persists for months If you develop a fever of 102?F (39?C) or higher during an episode of acute bronchitis If your symptoms of acute bronchitis do not improve within 48 hours, especially if you experience shortness of breath, or if your mucus thickens, darkens, or becomes streaked with blood Seek emergency care If your body temperature rises above 104?F (40?C) or falls below 95?F (35?C) If you have a heart rate of 125 beats per minute or above while at rest If your breathing rate is greater than 30 breaths per minute while at rest If you have to work so hard to breathe that you become extremely tired If your nail beds and lips turn gray or blue If you experience dizziness, confusion, or fainting
Smoking when ill with bronchitis can make your illness worse, and cause recovery to take longer.
Smoking reduces the ability of the cilia in the lungs to function effectively. Cilia are small, hairlike cells that move to propel secretions, germs, and foreign particles out of the lungs. Having trouble coughing up the extra secretions in your lungs may cause you to feel worse or to feel sick longer. Your clinician can inform you of a number of medications and programs available to help you quit smoking.
Drink plenty of liquids (preferably water), eat healthy foods, and get plenty of rest. Over-the-counter medications may help with fever and muscle aches. Your clinician may also recommend an expectorant to help loosen the mucus in the lungs Table 03.
Table 3. Ways to Take Care of Yourself While Recovering From Bronchitis
Drink plenty of water (at least six to eight large glasses a day). Drinking plenty of liquids helps keep the mucus in your lungs thin and loose. This can help you cough up the extra secretions in your lungs that are making it hard for you to breathe. Use mucus-loosening medications (expectorants) to loosen the extra secretions in your lungs. This makes it easier to cough up the extra secretions. Take aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever, aches, and pains. Ask your clinician or pharmacist which medicine is right for you. Always follow directions on the label unless otherwise instructed by your clinician. Avoid alcohol, which can reduce the coughing and sneezing reflexes needed to clear the lungs. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid, which can make it harder to cough up mucus from your air passages. Drinking alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of antibiotics and many other medicines, and can increase your risk of serious side effects when taking certain medicines. Do not smoke. Avoid working around chemicals, fumes, or fine dust particles. Wash your hands frequently, especially after being outside or in public places. Avoid touching your eyes and nose. Antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) are important for healthy immune function. Be sure to eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach) and orange or yellow-colored fruits and vegetables (carrots, oranges, mangos, apricots). Do not take a cough suppressant unless your clinician recommends it. You may need to take a cough suppressant at night if your cough makes it difficult for you to get enough rest. Use cough suppressants sparingly, and only if directed by your clinician. Be sure to get at least 8 hours of rest a night, preferably in a warm room. You may need extra rest, such as naps, while recovering from bronchitis. Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home. You can also try inhaling steam over a pan or sink of hot water, or take frequent hot showers. The extra humidity may help you clear your nasal and airway passages. Wash the humidifier or vaporizer unit once daily with soap and warm water, or a diluted bleach solution. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Keeping the unit clean will help prevent mold and germ growth. If you must go outside in cold temperatures, wear a scarf over your mouth and nose to avoid further irritation of the airways. Keep your clinician informed should your symptoms worsen. Contact your clinician if your medication causes any unpleasant side effects.
Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.
A healthy diet is important for the immune system to work properly.
Eating a diet high in simple sugars has been shown to interfere with immune system functioning. Try to avoid foods that contain processed sugar. Antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E) are important for healthy immune function. Be sure to eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach) and orange or yellow-colored fruits and vegetables (carrots, oranges, mangos, apricots).
Zinc helps your immune system by fostering a higher resistance to some illnesses.
Ask your clinician if you should take zinc, and if so, how much to take and how often to take it. Large doses of zinc can induce nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Taking more than 40 milligrams of zinc daily on a long-term basis can hurt the immune system and interfere with copper absorption.
Some herbs may help boost the immune system, which may help your body fight infection. However, people with an autoimmune disease may need to avoid immune-stimulating herbs.
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) appears to stimulate immune function in the laboratory; however, in real-life studies the effects have not been very dramatic.
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) appears to stimulate immune function and acts as an antibiotic in laboratory studies. It is often used in combination with echinacea.
- Astragalus has been shown to be an immune stimulant in several studies.
- Marshmallow appears to stimulate white blood cell activity and reduce inflammation.
- Slippery elm has been used for its soothing and antitussive (cough-suppressing) effects in bronchitis. It is often available in the form of lozenges.
- Horseradish has been used to fight respiratory infections and appears to have some antibacterial effects.
- Mullein appears to be an expectorant that can be helpful in bronchitis.
- Siberian ginseng is commonly used for its immune-stimulant effects.
- Wild indigo is another herb with demonstrated immune-stimulant effects.
- Garlic (Allium sativum) has antibacterial properties.
- To help relax your bronchial tubes and loosen phlegm, some herbalists recommend coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara).
Alternative therapies should not be used as a substitute for medical care. You should always tell your clinician or pharmacist what medicines you are taking, such as prescription or non-prescription medicines, herbs, vitamins, or other supplements.
Alternative therapies may react poorly with some prescribed or nonprescription medicines. Taking herbs, vitamins, or other supplements may interfere with lab tests or healing after surgery or illness, or may worsen some illnesses and health conditions. Your clinician and pharmacist can help you choose the complementary therapies or supplements that are right for you.
Certain age groups, such as infants and the elderly, are more susceptible to developing bronchitis. People with chronic lung, heart, or kidney disease, or a weakened immune system also have an increased risk of developing bronchitis.
People in high-risk groups, such as those listed above, should take steps to prevent becoming ill with bronchitis. This includes not smoking, and frequent hand washing. Also, ask your clinician whether you should receive vaccines against pneumonia and seasonal influenza viruses.
Most people recover from an episode of acute bronchitis within a few days, often without any medical treatment.
In smokers or people with heart disease or another chronic medical conditions, bronchitis may linger. Smokers are also at greater risk of developing a secondary bacterial infection in the lungs and eventually developing chronic bronchitis.
The cough of bronchitis may persist for several weeks.
Most symptoms of bronchitis peak within 1 to 3 days of falling ill, and are gone within a week or so. However, the cough from bronchitis can persist for several weeks.
If symptoms worsen, call your clinician.
Evidence that you are not getting better from an acute bout of bronchitis include a fever of 102°F (39ºC) or higher, increased shortness of breath, and mucus that thickens, darkens, or becomes streaked with blood.
If you seem to get frequent respiratory tract infections, or if you have a cough that persists, call your clinician.
Other illnesses and diseases can have the same symptoms as bronchitis. If you get bronchitis more than twice during a year, or if your symptoms persist, your clinician may need to examine you to rule out other illnesses.
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