Most cases of bronchitis do not require treatment from a GP, and the symptoms can be easily managed at home.
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis, but healthy living will help. In particular, you should stop smoking, if you smoke.
Managing symptoms at home
If you have bronchitis:
- get plenty of rest
- drink lots of fluids – this helps prevent dehydration and thins the mucus in your lungs, making it easier to cough up
- treat headaches, fever, and aches and pains with paracetamol or ibuprofen – although ibuprofen is not recommended if you have asthma
There is little evidence that cough medicines work – read more about treating coughs. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has recommended that over-the-counter cough medicines should not be given to children under the age of six.
As an alternative to an over-the-counter cough medicine, try making your own mixture of honey and lemon, which can help soothe a sore throat and ease your cough.
If you smoke, you should stop immediately. Smoking aggravates bronchitis and increases your risk of developing a long-term (chronic) condition.
Stopping smoking while you have bronchitis can also be the perfect opportunity to quit altogether.
Although treatment from a GP is rarely necessary, there may be times when you should see one – read more about when to see your GP.
Your GP will not routinely prescribe antibiotics, as bronchitis is nearly always caused by a virus. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, and prescribing them when they are unnecessary can, over time, make bacteria more resistant to antibiotic treatment. Read more about antibiotic resistance.
Your GP will only prescribe antibiotics if you have an increased risk of developing complications, such as pneumonia. Antibiotics may be recommended for:
- premature babies
- elderly people over the age of 80
- people with a history of heart, lung, kidney or liver disease
- people with a weakened immune system, which could be the result of an underlying condition or a side effect of a treatment such as steroid medication
- people with cystic fibrosis
If you are prescribed antibiotics for bronchitis, it is likely to be a five-day course of amoxicillin, oxytetracycline or doxycycline.
Possible side effects of these medicines include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, but they are uncommon.
Chronic bronchitis is treated in the same way as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- a type of medication called mucolytics can be used to make mucus easier to cough up
- an exercise programme known as pulmonary rehabilitation can help you cope better with your symptoms
Stopping smoking is also very important if you have been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or COPD.
Read more about the treatment of COPD.