You had the flu, that's true, but that was weeks ago, and you're still coughing, hacking and bringing up those disgusting little blobs of mucus that boys in junior high call lungers. (Doctors call this a productive cough.) Sounds like you have bronchitis--inflamed, irritated airways.
Bronchitis can last just a few weeks--the result of a hard-to-shake cold or flu. When bronchitis drags on for more than three months or occurs once a year or more often, it's considered chronic (most likely to happen to smokers or people with other lung problems such as emphysema or cystic fibrosis).
First Things First
If you have bronchitis, getting mucus up and out of your lungs is a primary concern, because mucus-filled lungs breed bacteria that can cause pneumonia, says Sally Wenzel, M.D., associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a pulmonary specialist at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, both in Denver. Avoiding inhaled irritants is important, too. And keeping your immunity strong can help prevent the worst complications of bronchitis.
Here's what you can do
Toss the cigarettes. If you smoke, consider that lingering cough as an early warning signal of lung damage. "Smokers are much more likely to develop bronchitis than nonsmokers," says Dr. Wenzel.
If you stop smoking, you may cough up even more mucus for a time, but that's actually a good sign. "It means that your lungs are working to clear themselves out," she explains. As your lungs heal, the cough will soon fade.
Women who stop smoking may be surprised to notice that they get fewer so-called chest colds--and that goes for their children, too, who will no longer suffer the ill effects of secondhand smoke.
Ask others not to smoke in your vicinity. Breathing someone else's cigarette smoke can make your bronchitis worse, Dr. Wenzel says. "Stay away from secondhand smoke."
|When To See A Doctor|
Bronchitis can set the stage for pneumonia, so see a doctor promptly if your cough gets worse, if you feel weak and tired or have a fever or if you're short of breath. The only sure way to determine whether or not you have pneumonia is a chest x-ray. If you have pneumonia, you'll be given antibiotics.
Get misty. "When you breathe in moist air, you help thin out mucus, which makes it easier to clear out the lungs," explains Karen Conyers, a respiratory therapist at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Taking a hot shower or bath, draping a towel over your head and breathing the steam from a bowl of hot water or running a humidifier in your bedroom as you sleep can all provide the moisture that your airways need to stay clear.
Drink your fill. Imbibing water also helps thin mucous secretions in the lungs, Conyers says.
"Eight eight-ounce glasses a day is the minimum," says Dr. Wenzel.
Try a cup of mullein tea. A brew of this herb is said to soothe mucous membranes and help remove mucus from the lungs, reports Nan Kathryn Fuchs, ph.D., a nutritionist in Sebastopal, California, and nutrition editor of the Women's Health Letter.
To make the tea, steep a handful of dried mullein leaves (about two teaspoons per cup) in a pot of freshly boiled water for about ten minutes. Strain and drink up to three cups a day. Check at a health food store for dried mullein leaves. Alternatively Mullein tincture as directed on the label
Blow up balloons. Respiratory therapists sometimes have their patients blow into a device with an adjustable valve that exercises the lungs the same way as blowing up balloons.
"By taking deeper breaths and blowing harder than one would normally, blowing up balloons may help people move mucus up and out of their lungs," Conyers says.
Eat onions. "Onions contain a number of ingredients, including quercetin, a compound in the bioflavonoid family that may help protect the lungs from infection," says Dr. Fuchs. In test-tube experiments, quercetin proved effective against several viruses.
Add some spice to your life. Red peppers, curry and other spicy foods that make your eyes water or nose run can help thin mucous secretions, says Dr. Fuchs
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