FAMILY HOME REMEDIES By Nadeem Y. MuftiBRONCHITIS - 7 Ways to Bear the BattleYou thought you were finally shaking that cold, but this morning your cough is worse thanever. Youre coughing up phlegm by the cupful, and it feels as if someone spent the night tap-dancing on your chest. Youve probably developed bronchitis, an often painful infection inthe major bronchial tubes leading to the lungs. "Bronchitis has many causes, the two mostcommon being bacterial infections and viruses that weaken the immune system and leave therespiratory passages vulnerable to secondary infection," explains Evan T. Bell, M.D., aspecialist in infectious diseases at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "Its hallmark symptomis a cough that is productive of thick, yellowish or greenish sputum in large amounts," hecontinues. But other symptoms can include a low-grade fever, chills, aches, and pains. "Youmay also experience some rattling noises in the lungs and chest," adds W. Paul Glezen, M.D.,professor of microbiology and immunology and of pediatrics and chief epidemiologist atBaylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "Unlike cold and flu viruses, which areeasily passed through respiratory excretions in the air, bronchitis tends to be particular to anindividual and is rarely contagious," says Bell. And while bronchitis sounds horrible, its barkis worse than its bite. According to Marcia Kielhofner, M.D., a clinical assistant professor ofmedicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, the two most worrisomesymptoms tend to be the characteristic burning or aching chest pain directly under thebreastbone and the sometimes blood-streaked sputum produced by the cough. Unless youhave a severe underlying disease or have asthma and allergies, you may have to let bronchitisrun its course. But there are some things you can do to move the process along. Humidifyyour environment.Use a warm- or cool-mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. "While thecough is an irritative thing, it is the bodys natural response for getting rid of the infection,"says Bell. "For this reason, it is best to help it along rather than to suppress it with an over-the-counter cough remedy," he advises. Any added humidity will help to bring the sputum upand out of the body. Standing in a steamy shower with the bathroom door closed or keeping apan of boiling water on the stove can also help loosen and bring up phlegm.Drink plenty ofliquids.Taking in extra liquids helps to keep the sputum more fluid. It doesnt really matterwhat type of liquid you take in, although warm liquids may feel better than cold ones. "Warmliquids, such as teas and soups, work very well to relieve the sore throat that accompanies thecough," says Kielhofner.Gargle with warm saltwater.Gargling with saltwater may provide adouble dose of relief by soothing the inflammation in the throat and by cutting through someof the mucus that may be coating and irritating the sensitive throat membranes, according toBell. It only takes one teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water; too much salt causesburning in the throat, and too little is ineffective. Gargle as often as needed for relief.Rest,rest, rest.Since the bronchitis probably followed on the heels of a cold or the flu, you mayfind it hard to sit still any longer. But according to Kielhofner, youll need to take it easy alittle longer. Walking around with bronchitis will only make you feel worse.Take aspirin oribuprofen to relieve the chest pain."These over-the-counter remedies are extremely helpfulfor relieving the discomfort resulting from the chest pain," says Kielhofner. Acetaminophentends not to help much with the aches and pains.Use a cough remedy as a last resort."The
best cough medicines for a productive cough contain guaifenesin to help bring up thesputum," says Bell. "If you really want to suppress it, which we generally dont recommend,look for something that contains dextromethorphan," he advises. Combination productsshould generally be avoided. Decongestants, antihistamines, and alcohol (commoningredients in combination products) have no role in the treatment of coughs; they may evenincrease discomfort by causing side effects. Most of the candy-type cough drops act asdemulcents on the throat--their soothing properties are due largely to their sugarcontent.Keep an eye out for complications.While letting nature take its course is generallythe best treatment for bronchitis, complications can sometimes occur, and youll need to stayalert for signs that its time to see your doctor. The complications that are most worrisomeinclude pneumonia, sinus infections, and ear infections, all of which need to be treated withprescription antibiotics. Signs that one or more of these complications may be present includea persistent high fever (which is not normally characteristic of bronchitis), shortness ofbreath, prolonged coughing spells, and severe chest pain. In addition, Kielhofner offers thefollowing warning: "While blood-streaked sputum is often a normal symptom of bronchitis,it can also signal several more-serious problems and should be checked out just to be safe.Any distinct change in sputum color or consistency also warrants a trip to the doctor."