By Sarena-Rae Santos, Contributing Writer
As a child, I was famous for having chronic bronchitis. There’s nothing like a booming cough echoing down the hallway, alarming the school nurse. Every year like clockwork, I was sent to the nurse, my parents were called, and I was sent home for a doctor’s visit that always had the same outcome – a prescription-grade cough suppressant and steroids. AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!
So, what can be done if you do get bronchitis? Are there natural remedies you can try before taking the mainstream approach to care? First, let’s discuss what bronchitis is.
What is Bronchitis
Bronchitis is when the airways leading to your lungs (trachea and bronchi) get inflamed and fill with mucus. You get a nagging cough that persists for two or more weeks as your body tries to eliminate the mucus (1).
It’s important to understand there are two types of bronchitis, acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and goes away on its own. Chronic bronchitis never really goes away but can be managed. Chronic bronchitis typically lasts at least three months, with recurring bouts occurring for at least two consecutive years.
Both types of bronchitis have the same symptoms, such as:
- Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray, or green, and can rarely be streaked with blood.
- Shortness of breath
- Slight fever and chills
- Chest discomfort (2)
Although rare, bronchitis can sometimes lead to pneumonia (3), so I’d recommend proning. Proning, or laying in a prone position, is simply laying flat on your stomach for a prolonged period. A 2014 study found proning for 12-18 hours per session benefits oxygenation and potentially improves mortality through the mitigation of abnormal lung tissue strain with moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (4). An excellent resource for pneumonia care is our blog Natural Remedies for Pneumonia.
If symptoms persist or worsen after three weeks, or you/your child is experiencing a dangerously high fever, severe chest pain, or coughing up blood, seek a trusted medical professional. Of course, if you don’t feel equipped to treat bronchitis naturally, feel you need more than what natural remedies can provide, or would like a formal diagnosis, seeking a naturopath is a great option.
Natural Remedies for Bronchitis
When it comes to bronchitis, a low fever is sometimes present. Suppose you read How to Handle Fevers Naturally. In that case, you already know the importance of letting a fever work its course and how fevers reducing on their own is vital to recovery from any illness. So just some quick reminders to naturally support the body during a fever:
- Keep comfortable
- Stay hydrated
- Take detox baths
- Support the lymphatic system
Earthley’s Ultimate Guide to Fevers is an excellent resource if you’re looking for more in-depth solutions surrounding fevers.
Aside from fever management, you can only address the root cause (usually a virus) and manage symptoms when dealing with bronchitis, so let’s do it.
Addressing the Virus
If you go to the doctor for bronchitis, you may be prescribed an antibiotic, but antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections (5). For most viral infections, treatments can only help with symptoms while you wait for your immune system to fight off the virus naturally. So why not take advantage of some natural antibiotics that have antiviral properties, too, such as oil of oregano or fermented garlic honey?
Oil of Oregano has antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, amongst many other beneficial properties (6,7,8). Oil of Oregano is made by infusing extra virgin olive oil with dried oregano leaves, creating a robust and ingestible “natural antibiotic” widely used in the natural community.
Fermented Garlic Honey has immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties and relieves upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (9,10,11,12). Fermented Garlic Honey is made by fermenting garlic cloves in honey and also creates a “natural antibiotic” commonly used in the natural community.
Addressing Chest Discomfort & Mucous Production
The accumulation of mucus in the lungs and lower breathing tubes (bronchi) results in chest congestion, sometimes referred to as chest discomfort or a chest cold (13). That’s where expectorant herbs come in. Expectorant herbs help remove excess mucus from the body and reduce irritating coughs by thinning the mucus and clearing the lungs. My two favorite expectorant herbs are mullein and marshmallow.
Mullein has been used for centuries to help coughs, bronchitis, asthma, and just about every respiratory issue under the sun. Mullein was traditionally used for tuberculosis (14). The flowers and leaves contain saponins that help rid the body of phlegm and mucilage, which soothes irritated membranes. Mullein loosens and removes excess mucus in the respiratory system while also having anti-inflammatory properties, relaxing muscles and relieving congestion (15).
Marshmallow root has an enzyme that loosens mucus and inhibits bacteria (16). Marshmallow root’s high mucilaginous content is likely what makes this benefit possible. One study learned that participants who took an herbal cough syrup with marshmallow root improved 86-90 percent of coughs from colds, bronchitis, or respiratory tract diseases with mucus formation (17).
Addressing the Cough & Shortness of Breath
Mainstream cough medicines like Dextromethorphan (DXM) have a long list of side effects. We commonly hear about drowsiness, but it can also cause seizures. Not to mention regular abuse of DXM at high doses can lead to chemical psychosis (18).
Other options include herbs like mullein, fenugreek, and dandelion.
Fenugreek helps maintain mucus conditions in the body (mainly in the lungs) by helping to clear congestion and acts as a throat cleanser and mucus solvent easing the urge to cough (19). These benefits are why fenugreek is commonly used to aid asthma symptoms (20). Fenugreek also helps relieve pain and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (21,22), which can significantly impact recovery from pneumonia.
Dandelions aren’t just a weed in your backyard. In traditional herbal medicine, dandelions are widely acknowledged for their vast array of medicinal properties like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (23,24). In animal studies, dandelion extract relaxes airway muscles, inhibits bronchial muscle contractions, and relieves the respiratory resistance of healthy and asthmatic mice (25).
Why not opt for something less dangerous than DXM, like Earthley’s Cough-B-Gone, which has all three of these herbs? Cough-B-Gone is an herbal tincture created to help relieve colds, coughs, and congestion. This tincture combines herbs like mullein leaf, fenugreek seed, and dandelion root to nourish your body and support the respiratory system.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.