You may think that you've just about kicked a cold or bout of the flu, but what about the nasty-sounding cough that won't go away? It could be bronchitis, the term for inflammation of the bronchi—the air "tubes" that connect the trachea and the lungs.

While a viral illness, such as a cold or the flu, is a common cause of bronchitis, it's not the only one. People who have a cough but no other symptoms, such as body aches or a runny nose, may have developed bronchitis after prolonged or significant exposure to lung irritants, such as dust, smoke or chemical fumes. If you're a smoker or have allergies or asthma, you're more vulnerable to bronchitis because your lungs are already inflamed. Bronchitis due to a bacterial infection is relatively rare.

You might think of bronchitis as “just a cough," but it can be dangerous for some people. Pneumonia can be a complication of bronchitis-especially in children under age two and in older adults who are frail and/or debilitated. In people with a history of cardiac arrhythmia, the exertion of prolonged, hard coughing can trigger a rapid or irregular heartbeat. If you have bronchitis, it's important to see your doctor if you notice an unusual heart rate, have shortness of breath, a fever or bloody sputum, or you are frail and elderly. Even if you're otherwise healthy, see a doctor if your cough lasts for more than two weeks.

Antibiotics are of no use for viral or inflammatory bronchitis. Instead, conventional doctors usually tell their patients to simply rest and drink plenty of fluids. This is solid advice, but there are several natural medicines to speed the healing process, often cutting the course of the illness in half. Top remedies for bronchitis…

  • Try a botanical expectorant. It not only helps you cough up phlegm but also acts as an antiviral and soothes irritated tissues in the throat.

My favorite: Elecampane in tincture (an alcohol extract) form.

Typical dose: 30 drops in one ounce of water. Take this at least 15 minutes before or after eating or drinking, six times per day for up to seven days.

Caution: Elecampane may cause an allergic reaction in people with ragweed allergies.

  • Eat the right foods. Avoid dairy products, meat and sugar during bronchitis-these foods promote inflammation and slow your healing, Instead, have vegetable soup, broth, whole grains and steamed vegetables.
  • Drink peppermint tea. Nausea due to frequent coughing and swallowing phlegm commonly occurs with bronchitis, Peppermint tea relieves nausea and helps break up the swallowed mucus.
  • Take a hot bath or steamy shower. Either one will soothe your respiratory tract and help eliminate mucus.

Also helpful: Apply a thin layer of Vicks Va poRub or Mentholatum Ointment to the center of your chest after the bath or shower and again just before bed to make breathing easier and reduce coughing while you sleep.

Important: With viral bronchitis, people are usually contagious (via air droplets from a cough or direct contact) for up to a week.

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