How Bronchitis Is Treated

Acute and chronic bronchitis are treated with fundamentally different approaches, although there are a few treatments that can be used for both conditions. Overall, the cornerstone of therapy for both forms is based on improving comfort, promoting optimal breathing, and reducing the cough.

The most common treatments for acute bronchitis include rest and symptomatic treatment when the inflammation is the result of a viral infection. When a bacterial infection is the cause, antibiotics may be used as well. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is managed with medications that decrease inflammation of the bronchi, such as inhaled or oral steroids, as well as lifestyle modifications such as smoking cessation.

Common treatments for bronchitis

Verywell / Lara Antal

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

If you are diagnosed with acute or chronic bronchitis, you will probably not need to be hospitalized for it. For both acute and chronic bronchitis, a large focus of your treatment is based on home remedies and lifestyle modifications.

  • Avoid smoke and fumes: Both acute and chronic bronchitis can be exacerbated by cigarette smoke, industrial inhalants, and fumes in the environment, such as smoke from a grill. Whenever possible, stay away from inhaled irritants, as they can induce an increased inflammatory reaction of your bronchi. 
  • Humidifiers: Using a humidifier may relieve discomfort when you have acute bronchitis, and sometimes this helps with chronic bronchitis as well. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, making it easier to breathe and loosening mucus. It can even relieve some of the pain that ensues from breathing dry air.

Acute Bronchitis

  • Rest: Acute bronchitis can cause you to feel very tired. This is due to both the infection and the persistent cough. It is important to rest as much as possible when you are sick. 
  • Fluids: Drinking clear liquids when you have any type of respiratory infection is important because you need to stay hydrated, which helps thin the mucus in your chest and throat.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

A number of over-the-counter medications can help relieve some of the symptoms of both acute and chronic bronchitis. In general, these medications are more effective for short-term use if you have acute bronchitis. Most of the time, your healthcare provider will recommend prescription-strength medication that has a more lasting effect for chronic bronchitis. 

  • Pain relievers: Pain relievers and fever reducers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve the chest pain and soreness that you may experience from coughing when you have bronchitis.
  • Fever reducers: Many of the medications that can reduce your fever also relieve mild pain, so these over-the-counter medications can do double duty. Do not take them in doses higher than recommended, and be sure to tell your healthcare provider or your child's pediatrician about over-the-counter medications that you are using. 
  • Cough medications: Cough suppressants or expectorants may be helpful if your cough is dry or unproductive. If you have a persistent cough with chronic bronchitis, your healthcare provider may give you a prescription cough suppressant. 

Prescriptions

Prescription treatments for bronchitis are given for comfort, and some prescription treatments can help the disease itself to get better. 

  • Antibiotics: Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viral infections, which means that they cannot be treated with antibiotics. Taking them will not help you get better any faster and can lead to other problems, such as antibiotic resistance. If you have acute bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection, you may need to take prescription antibiotics. The specific antibiotic is determined based on the likely bacterial organism.

If you do need to take antibiotics, be sure to take all of your medication as prescribed and do not stop just because you are feeling better.

  • Bronchodilators: Bronchodilators such as Proventil (albuterol) relax the muscles around the bronchi, allowing them to become wider. This helps remove bronchial secretions while relieving bronchospasm and reducing airway obstruction. Your wheezing and chest tightness may temporarily improve, and more oxygen can be distributed to your lungs to improve your energy level. Some of these medications are referred to as rescue inhalers because they work quickly and are used to treat sudden episodes of shortness of breath related to bronchospasm.
  • Steroids: Oral steroids may be used to treat chronic bronchitis when symptoms rapidly get worse. Inhaled steroids are typically used to treat stable symptoms or when symptoms are slowly getting worse. 
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) Inhibitors: PDE4 inhibitors Daliresp (roflumilast) are a class of medication that treats inflammation associated with lung disease. A once-daily oral medication, PDE4 inhibitors help reduce exacerbation of chronic bronchitis, typically with minimal side effects.

Bronchitis Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Specialist-Driven Procedures

Several procedures can help relieve the symptoms and congestion of chronic bronchitis. These procedures are primarily non-invasive and easy to tolerate but must be directed by an experienced specialist. 

  • Chest physiotherapy: This procedure, which may also be referred to as chest percussion, is a technique which involves clapping on the chest and/or back to help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up. It is often used with postural drainage and can be performed using cupped hands or an airway clearance device.
  • Postural drainage: This technique uses gravity to assist with the removal of mucus from the airways. Both chest physiotherapy and postural drainage work best after a bronchodilator treatment.
  • Airway clearance devices: These devices are used in conjunction with chest therapy and postural drainage to better ensure mucus clearance from the lungs. The devices have been shown to improve results compared to physiotherapy and drainage alone. They are relatively affordable and easy to use, and your therapist or healthcare provider may recommend a device if you have chronic bronchitis.
    Positive expiratory pressure (PEP) devices allow you to breathe against air pressure.
  • High-frequency oscillating devices, such as the Flutter mucus clearance device and the Acapella vibratory PEP device, gently allow the small and large airways to vibrate.
  • The Lung Flute, a hand-held device, generates low-frequency sound waves into the airways.

Complementary Medicine (CAM)

There are a number of alternative therapies used for bronchitis. A few have been subjected to research, with limited results:

  • Eucalyptus oil:  Eucalyptus may possess antiviral properties; using the oil with eucalyptus steam inhalation may decrease some of the symptoms of acute bronchitis.
  • Pelargonium sidoides: Also known as umckaloabo, P. sidoides is an herbal remedy that may be effective in relieving symptoms of acute bronchitis.
  • Slippery elm: In tea form, slippery elm may help relieve a sore throat that can be associated with bronchitis. Slippery elm contains mucilage, a gel-like substance that may reduce inflammation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is bronchitis treated in people with asthma?

    Acute bronchitis can lead to secondary infections in people with asthma and other ongoing respiratory problems, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis, as well as those with heart failure. Healthcare providers will often prescribe antibiotics to treat acute bronchitis in these patients to lower the risk of pneumonia or other complications.

  • How is wheezing in bronchitis treated?

    Sipping hot beverages is sometimes helpful for wheezing, in particular those containing caffeine, which has been shown to temporarily relax airways in people with asthma.

  • What can I do to recover from bronchitis faster?

    Follow your healthcare provider's orders to stay well-hydrated and take it easy. Don't push yourself, even if that means taking time off from work and turning over household tasks and other responsibilities to others. Get plenty of sleep as well: Research has found sleep makes it easier for immune cells to fight infection.

  • What happens if bronchitis isn't treated?

    Acute bronchitis caused by a virus will resolve on its own without treatment. For bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed but aren't always advisable. In addition to concerns about antibiotic resistance, research has found antibiotics to be only slightly effective for bronchitis. In one study, they reduced the amount of time a person had symptoms by only half a day.

  • How is acute bronchitis treated during pregnancy?

    Bronchitis requires special attention during pregnancy due to concerns about the health of the developing fetus and changes in the maternal immune system that may increase susceptibility to infection.Although rare, a viral infection can lead to complications during pregnancy that can affect both parent and baby. If you're pregnant and develop bronchitis, let your healthcare provider know right away so they can determine how best to relieve your symptoms and monitor the progression of the infection.

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Article Sources
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