Attack the hack. For a dry, hacking cough, Aconitum is among the best homeopathic medicines, according to homeopath Dana Ullman. Others that work well include Antimonium tartaricum, Bryonia, Drosera, Phosphorus, and Spongia. Which of these medicines a homeopath prescribes depends on your unique symptoms.
Silence the Wind. Chinese medicine views bronchitis as an invasion of Wind, according to Efrem Korngold, O.M.D., L.Ac. Sometimes the condition is brought on by Wind Cold, which produces a dry cough and whitish mucus. For this type of bronchitis, Dr. Korngold might prescribe ginger. Then there’s Wind Heat bronchitis, which is characterized by a thick yellow-green mucus. This type responds well to prescription herbal formulas containing fritillaria bulb and tricosanthis fruit, he says.
Consult an acupuncturist. The United Nations World Health Organization includes bronchitis in its list of conditions treatable with acupuncture. When treating bronchitis, acupuncturists use Lung 5, which is located inside your elbow, on the upper part of the crease. They also use Lung 6, which is high on the thickest part of the forearm. You can try stimulating these points yourself with acupressure. Using your fingertips, apply steady, penetrating pressure to each point for 3 minutes.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluidssix to eight 8-ounce glasses a day, Dr. Pizzorno advises. Fluids help liquefy bronchial secretions, making them easier to cough up. Most people with bronchitis find warm fluids more soothing than cold.
If it’s dry, humidify. Dry air is irritating and can trigger coughing fits. “At night, run a vaporizer while you sleep,” Dr. Simons suggests. During the day, take hot, steamy showers.
Suck on candy. Hard candies help soothe your throat, which in turn helps relieve bronchial irritation, Dr. Brauer says. Use sugarless candies to avoid tooth decay.
Protect your airways. Avoid cigarette smoke, dust, chemical vapors, and other respiratory irritants, Dr. Brauer says.
Choose a cough medicine. For a dry cough, try an over-the-counter cough suppressant that contains dextromethorphan, Dr. Simons suggests. Both Triaminic DM and Dimetapp DM have dextromethorphan as their active ingredient. But don’t use these products if you’re bringing up mucus. In that case, you should use an expectorant made with guaifenesin, such as Congestac.
Other Good Choices
Breathe in, breathe out. Coughing that you’re unable to control makes you anxious. This leads to shallow breathing, which in turn triggers even more coughing.
The following visualization exercise, recommended by Gerald N. Epstein, M.D., director of the Academy of Integrative Medicine and Mental Imagery in New York City, relieves anxiety and restores normal breathing. Practice it for a minute or two every few hours.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, telling yourself that you can get rid of anything that interferes with your normal breathing. Then open your eyes.
Close your eyes again and take three breaths. If you cough, just accept it and keep breathing. Open your eyes.
Close your eyes again and take three breaths. Focus on how your breathing is changing, deepening. Open your eyes.
Repeat the above steps, this time focusing on breathing from your diaphragm rather than from your upper chest.
Get a whiff of relief. Herbalist/aromatherapist Kathy Keville, coauthor of Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, recommends the following essential oils for bronchitis: clove bud, fir (including balsam and pine), ravensara, and sweet inula. Add 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil of your choice to a bowl of hot water and inhale deeply. Or add 3 to 15 drops to a comfortably hot bath and step in for a soothing soak. Avoid using clove in the bath, as it may irritate your skin.
Make your own cough syrup. Place six chopped white onions in a double boiler. Add 1/2 cup of honey. Slowly simmer this mixture for 2 hours to draw out the onion juice, then strain out the remaining onion material. Take 1 to 2 warm tablespoonfuls of the honey-onion juice mixture every hour or two, Dr. Pizzorno says.
Get plastered. Did your grandmother believe in mustard plasters? Naturopaths still do. Here’s Dr. Pizzorno’s recipe: Mix 2 tablespoons of dry black or brown mustard with 6 tablespoons of flour. Add enough water to make a paste. Spread the paste on a cloth, then lay the cloth over your chest. Inhale the vapors for no more than 20 minutes. After that, be sure to remove the plaster. If you leave it on your chest too long, you could develop blisters.
A study conducted by Ralph Gonzalez, M.D., of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, found that doctors prescribe antibiotics to two-thirds of the people whom they treat for bronchitis. But more than 90 percent of all cases of bronchitis result from viral infections, and antibiotics can’t kill viruses. These drugs are effective only against bacteria, which cause comparatively few cases of bronchitis.
“Before prescribing antibiotics, your doctor should take a sputum culture to make sure that you really have a bacterial infection,” Dr. Brauer says. If the test comes out positive-that is, you do have bronchitis-causing bacteria in your system-then antibiotics are appropriate.
In that case, there’s something that you can do to increase the effectiveness of any antibiotics you’re given: Pair them with bromelain, says Alan Gaby, M.D. An enzyme found in pineapple, bromelain helps antibiotics get into your cells. He suggests either eating more pineapple or taking a 250-milligram bromelain supplement with your antibiotics.
Consult your doctor immediately if you have bronchitis and you develop a fever or you start coughing up bloody, brown, or greenish yellow phlegm. You may have pneumonia, which requires prompt professional treatment.