OverviewCausesSymptomsDiagnosisTreatment

Treatment options depend largely on the type of bronchitis, the severity of symptoms, and other factors. The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms and improve lung function.

Treatment Options

Treatment for acute bronchitis includes rest, fluids, cough medicine, the use of a room humidifier, and over-the-counter pain relievers as needed. Treatment options for chronic bronchitis include some of the treatments for acute bronchitis as well as lifestyle changes, medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and lung transplant.

Rest

Rest can boost the immune system to help the body fight the infections that cause acute cases. Why? Because during sleep, the body produces cytokines, which are a type of protein that targets infections and inflammation that can cause acute and chronic bronchitis.

Fluids

Bronchitis causes the production of excess sputum in the lungs, which can cause cough and reduce lung function. Thick sputum is harder to cough out of the lungs than thin sputum. Drinking fluids thins sputum, therefore making it easier to clear from the lungs.

Cough Medicine

Cough medicine can help control coughing, making sufferers more comfortable and helping them improve their sleep quality. Both expectorants and cough suppressants can help. Expectorants thin sputum to make it easier to cough up. Used during the day, expectorants can clear lungs and improve lung function. Cough suppressants, by contrast, reduce the urge to cough. Using cough suppressants at night can reduce coughing, which allows the patient to gain a more restful sleep. Taking a couple of teaspoons of honey can also help reduce symptoms.

Room Humidifier or Vaporizer

A room humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can loosen chest congestion to clear the lungs.

Analgesics

Acute bronchitis can cause achiness, headaches, and back and muscle pain. Chronic bronchitis can cause chest discomfort. Over-the-counter pain relievers can alleviate discomfort in patients with either form of this condition. Stronger prescription painkillers are usually not necessary.

Lifestyle Changes

Regular handwashing can reduce the transmission of the bacteria and viruses that cause acute cases. Additionally, avoiding tobacco smoking, secondhand smoke, and environmental toxins can help reduce the risk of developing chronic cases.

Increased Physical Activity

Increasing exercise can help someone with chronic bronchitis breathe better, as physical activity can strengthen the muscles a person needs to breathe.

Medications

Antibiotics are not likely to help treat acute cases, as 90 percent of all cases of acute bronchitis are the result of a viral infection rather than a bacterial one, and antibiotics are ineffective in the treatment of viral infections.

Medications for chronic bronchitis may include bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around the airways and open up the air passages to make breathing easier. Most bronchodilators deliver medication in an aerosol spray through an inhaler, which allows patients to draw the medication deep into their lungs.

Inhalers may contain steroids to facilitate breathing in patients with severe chronic bronchitis. Research shows that oral steroids may improve lung function, reduce shortness of breath, and improve the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. Experts believe this improvement is due to the fact that steroids reduce inflammation to help alleviate cough and other symptoms.

Immunizations

Individuals with chronic bronchitis should maintain recommended immunizations, especially yearly vaccinations for seasonal influenza and the pneumonia shot every five to seven years to prevent respiratory infections. The CDC recommends adults and children stay up to date on all vaccines to prevent acute bronchitis. 

Oxygen Therapy

Doctors may prescribe oxygen therapy for patients who feel short of breath, tired or confused due to low oxygen levels in the blood.

Oxygen therapy can improve breathing in patients with chronic bronchitis by increasing the amount of oxygen they receive in their lungs and bloodstream. The process involves the delivery of oxygen through a tube resting in the patient’s nose, a face mask, or a tube placed in the windpipe.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

During pulmonary rehabilitation, patients with chronic bronchitis learn breathing techniques that can help prevent symptoms from worsening. These techniques, such as pursed lip breathing, help strengthen the lungs to help them work more efficiently.

Lung transplant

A lung transplant is a last resort for patients with end-stage chronic bronchitis. In fact, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the two most common forms of COPD, are the most common reasons for lung transplants.

FAQ

What is the best medicine for bronchitis?

Over-the-counter analgesics (painkillers) are typically the best medicines for acute bronchitis. Non-prescription pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, alleviate headache, body aches, fever, and other symptoms of acute cases.

Bronchodilators are the best medicine for chronic cases, as they open the airways to help bring more air into the lungs.

What is the fastest way to cure bronchitis?

The fastest way to cure acute cases is to get plenty of rest to rejuvenate the immune system, drink fluids to thin sputum, and take over-the-counter medications to reduce body aches.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Treatment, such as bronchodilators, can help improve breathing quickly, though.

How do doctors treat bronchitis?

After performing physical exams and ordering blood and imaging tests to diagnose acute or chronic bronchitis, healthcare providers treat the condition with medications that improve breathing. Acute cases typically go away on their own without treatment from a provider. To treat chronic cases, however, healthcare providers often prescribe bronchodilator inhalers or oral medications, which open up the airways to make breathing easier.

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.


More about Bronchitis

Written by

Medically reviewed by