Acute bronchitis is responsible for about 10 million doctor’s office visits annually in the United States; it is among the top 10 reasons people seek medical help. Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes characterized by cough with or without excessive mucus production (Mayo Clinic 2011c). Although acute bronchitis can be distressing, it usually dissipates on its own in about 1 to 3 weeks (Knutson 2002; Macfarlane 2001; Tackett, McKeever 2012; Braman 2006; Wenzel 2006; A.D.A.M. 2012).
Acute bronchitis differs from chronic bronchitis, a component of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) spectrum (Runge 2009). In contrast to acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis is characterized by chronic cough and sputum production occurring for at least 3 months annually during 2 consecutive years (PubMed Health 2011; Kim 2013; Mayo Clinic 2011a).
Up to 95% of cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy adults are caused by viral infections, NOT bacterial infections (Hueston 1998; Tackett, Atkins 2012). A very small percentage of cases of acute bronchitis, however, are caused by bacteria (especially in people with chronic health conditions) or environmental irritants such as pollutants (Albert 2010; Tackett, Atkins 2012; Ghosh 2013; Schwartz 2004; First Consult 2013). Even though acute bronchitis is most frequently caused by viral infections, a study reported that 75% of people with acute bronchitis were prescribed an antibiotic (Tackett, McKeever 2012). This issue represents a serious public health problem, particularly considering the increasing numbers of bacterial strains that are resistant to one or multiple antimicrobial agents (Huang 2004; Erb 2007; Livermore 2000; Jones 2001). In fact, acute bronchitis has been described as the number one cause of antibiotic abuse in the United States (Runge 2009). Antibiotic therapy is not recommended for most situations in which acute bronchitis occurs (Wenzel 2006).
People who develop a cough in association with acute bronchitis often turn to over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications; however the effectiveness of these drugs is suspect. In fact, a 2012 Cochrane review found “no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC medicines in acute cough” (Smith 2012). Medications that reduce inflammation, mucus buildup, and open the airways are commonly recommended to ease symptoms of acute bronchitis (Knutson 2002; Wenzel 2006; Worrall 2008; Albert 2010; Llor 2011; A.D.A.M. 2012).Since acute bronchitis is frequently caused by viral infection, efforts should be made to prevent initial viral exposures from progressing into full-blown infection. It is important that people act quickly if they suspect they are coming down with a viral infection. Life Extension® has developed an aggressive program to support the body’s defenses during a viral attack. To read about this program in detail, refer to the Influenza and Common Cold protocols or the section at the end of this protocol. For individuals in whom the infection has already progressed to acute bronchitis, natural interventions are discussed within this protocol that may help alleviate symptoms or shorten illness duration.