Simply put, bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubules.
The best way to think of our respiratory system is imaging an upside-down tree. The large thick trunk is the trachea that brings air from the mouth downward until the trachea splits into two large branches – the right and left main bronchi. These continue to divide into the lobes of the lungs, then the smaller segments of each lobe, and finally turn into the bronchioles. These branches then become smaller alveolar ducts which lead to the ‘leaves’ of the lungs – the alveoli where the actual gas exchange occurs.
When the bronchial tubules inflame, the tissue swells and the airways become narrower leading to the sensation of difficult or labored breathing and sounds of wheezing. Think of being in your home on a really windy night with the windows open. When you closed them, you must have left a narrow gap that let the wind speed through causing the familiar and eerie whistling. Typically, the lungs maintain a thin layer of mucous, but the cough and inflammation irritates lining even more. This triggers the body to ramp up mucous production which can further narrow the airways and lead to a sticky cough.
Bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection (like colds or flu). The condition could be caused by bacteria, but only 1-10% of cases end up being due to this class of pathogens.
In addition, avoiding aggravating factors such as smog and smoke can help. Human lungs have evolved to breathe air of a certain composition and thickness.
Smog and smoke tend to be thicker and are filled with far more pollutants and particles than regular air. This irritates the lining of the bronchial tubules and causes inflammation in the lungs. Over time, this can lead to the development of bronchitis as the tissue begins to scar. The inability to stretch due to thickened scar tissue makes gas exchange extremely difficult and can lead to an irreversible narrowing of the bronchial tubules.
The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing, and sticky coughs. In addition, individuals often report common signs of infection such as a low-grade fever, nasal congestion, and a headache.
The fever is a natural reaction to the viral infection, and the body tries to heat up enough to make it inhospitable for the virus. Much like mucous production is increased in the lungs, it also gets increased in the nasal passages to create something of a web or barrier to catch any invaders and stop them from moving deeper into the body.
It depends. An acute bout of bronchitis will usually clear itself within approximately 10 days, but the cough can persist for about three weeks.
If days have passed and you still haven’t seen improvement, then it’s time to consider seeing your primary care provider. As mentioned, bronchitis is most commonly due to a viral infection, so antibiotics which target bacteria will be ineffective unless you land in the 1-10% suffering due to bacteria.
There is a few differences between acute and chronic bronchitis.
First, acute bronchitis will be gone within two weeks. With chronic bronchitis, the infection is permanent.Sometimes you may notice an improvement, but the cough always comes back.
The second difference is the cause. With acute bronchitis, the infection of the bronchi develops after a cold or the flu. Chronic bronchitis may be caused by a virus or bacteria, but is mostly caused by smoking.
Strengthening your immune system and providing the body with more nutrients is a great way to supply the body’s troops with the necessary resources and strength to fight off the infection.
Immunomodulators such as Echinacea spp. can help engage the immune system so it can better fight off the virus. The herb has shown benefits against strains of avian (H5N1, H7N7) and swine flu (H1N1) and increases the concentration of immunoglobulins in the lungs. Immunoglobulins are proteins more commonly known as antibodies. Increasing their presence in the body would help mediate the impact of any virus trying to set up shop in the bronchial tubules and causing subsequent inflammation.
Echinacea is the leading ingredient in A.Vogel’s Cold and Flu line. Echinaforce products such as the tincture and tablets are a means to ward off infection.
Echinaforce Sore Throat Spray contains peppermint and sage (Salvia officinalis). Sage has been shown to have potent anti-microbial impacts and could help alleviate the viral burden causing the bronchitis.
Another option is the Echinaforce Hot Drink Extra Strength which contains elderberry (Sambucus nigra). In addition to its anti-microbial action, an in-vitro study demonstrated that pre-treatment of infectious bronchitis virus with elderberry significantly inhibited the virus from developing.
An important note is that all of these products are safe to take in pregnant or breastfeeding women except for the sore throat spray due to the compound thujone found in the sage.
When it comes to wet or bronchial coughs, mucus can sometimes feel “stuck” in your chest, and although you might feel like you a have wet cough, nothing comes up. In these situations, you need something to help break up or shift the mucus.
Herbs such as ivy and thyme act as expectorants and so are especially useful here; they’ve been used to treat wet and bronchial coughs for generations.
Bronchosan combines fresh extracts of ivy and thyme; adults can take it up to five times a day to help treat the symptoms of a wet cough.
Bronchosan is able to deliver a ‘double whammy’ to respiratory complaints:
- Ivy relaxes the bronchial tubes, easing tightness and reducing spasms of coughing.
- Thyme thins mucus in the lungs, helping its expulsion.
In other words, you’ll cough less but when you do cough, it will be more productive – something will come out!
The literature also demonstrates that the use of honey decreased the frequency and severity of the cough and improved the individuals sleep. A word of caution though, honey should only be used in children older than one due to the risk of botulism if used in infants.
While moving might be out of the realm of possibility, it’s important to stay mindful of environmental pollutants, including smoking.
While these are less likely to cause an acute case of bronchitis, over time the tiny particulates in the air settle into the lungs and causes inflammation. Over the course of years, the chronic inflammation will lead to the formation of scar tissue.
Chronic bronchitis or COPD is a serious disease which requires medical supervision. Consult a doctor, especially if you are experiencing chest pain, if breathing or coughing is very painful or if you cough up blood or rust-coloured mucus.