It may produce some of the nastiest-looking phlegm you've ever seen, but bronchitis's bark is usually worse than its bite. Granted, it's quite a bark, as mucous membranes lining the air passages in your chest become irritated. To soothe the irritation, your body makes secretions to coat the airways. This produces a buildup of gunk in your lungs, which must be cleared by your coughing and sputtering more than a '67 Rambler in dire need of a tune-up.
Like the common cold, bronchitis affects most everyone sometime in his life. Acute cases are usually caused by a virus and will clear up on their own in a week or two. Chronic cases, however, are almost always caused by smoking-either your own habit or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke--and these cases may last for months. Bronchitis may also cause soreness, tightness or wheezing in the chest, chills, fatigue or a slight fever. But here's how to quiet all your symptoms.
Liquefy the problem. "Drinking fluids may help the mucus become more watery and easier to cough up," says Barbara phillips, M.D., associate professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington. Four to six glasses is probably plenty.
And while warm liquids like Mom's chicken soup may make you feel better, a cool glass of water, juice or any other nonalcoholic beverage works just as well. "All beverages are the same temperature inside your body," says Douglas Holsclaw, M.D., professor of pediatrics and director of the pediatric pulmonary and Cystic Fibrosis Center at Hahnemann University Hospital in philadelphia. To avoid losing fluids from your body, doctors advise staying away from booze, because it can actually cause dehydration. Also avoid caffeinated products such as coffee, tea and cola, because they make you urinate more and you may actually lose more fluids than you gain.
|When to See the Doctor|
|Bronchitis is usually not a serious problem, but you should see your doctor if: |
Reach for the red pepper. Hot peppers, curry and other spicy foods that make your eyes water or nose run can help bring an early end to bronchitis. "Hot, spicy foods help mucous membranes all over, not just in your nose, to secrete more liquids, which can help thin mucus," says Varro E. Tyler, ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. The advantage of thinner mucus is that it's easier to cough up.
Get away from cigarettes. Even being near someone who smokes can make bronchitis worse or cause return episodes. "You need to avoid all tobacco smoke," says Dr. phillips. "Even if you don't smoke but you're exposed to exhaled smoke, you are doing what's called passive smoking, and that can give you bronchitis."
If you do smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do, since this habit has been linked to as many as 95 percent of all cases of chronic bronchitis. "Your bronchitis will improve when you stop smoking," says Gordon Snider, M.D., chief of medical service at Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center. Some new ex-smokers experience increased coughing and sputum production for a week or two after quitting, adds Dr. phillips. This is actually a good sign--the airways are sweeping out a lot of accumulated secretions. Symptoms usually subside after two to four weeks.
plug in the vaporizer. "If you have mucus that is thick or difficult to cough up, a vaporizer will help loosen the secretions," adds Dr. phillips. If you don't have a vaporizer, either run a hot shower with the bathroom door closed or fill the sink with hot water, put a towel over your head and the sink to create a tent, and inhale the steam for five to ten minutes every couple of hours, suggests Dr. Snider.
Don't rely on expectorants. Over-the-counter cough medicines may suppress your cough-the opposite of what you want. Besides, there's no evidence that they help dry up mucus. You'll get better-and cheaper-results by drinking lots of liquids.
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