Bronchitis, what some people call a “chest cold”, is rarely a serious illness in kids. In fact, most of the time, it is a self-limited illness caused by a virus or exposure to cigarette smoke – or a combination of the two. (“Self-limited” means your body takes care of fighting off the virus without any need for help from medicines like antibiotics.)
Bronchitis comes in two “flavors”: acute and chronic. The chronic kind is when it goes on and on or keeps coming back. It usually occurs more in adults, especially smokers, or in those who have other airway/lung problems, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, immune deficiencies, etc.
In younger kids, it’s hard to define acute bronchitis because of the similarities and overlap with asthma and other “reactive airways” problems. In older kids and adults though, bronchitis includes a productive, junky-sounding cough, lots of mucus (whether spit out or swallowed!), rattling sounds in the chest, and sometimes chest pain with coughing.
It’s an old wive’s tale that bronchitis always needs to be treated by an antibiotic. Whether acute or chronic, the main therapies for bronchitis involve things you can do at home. These include:
– Drinking lots of fluids
– Using a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer, especially at night (and be sure to clean it daily)
– Raise the head and chest some at night with extra pillows
– Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen for discomfort or mild fevers
– Use the hot & steamy shower routine – close the door and get the bathroom all steamy by running a hot shower and, then, once it’s all good and steamy, sit in the bathroom and breath the warm mist for about 20 minutes
Over-the-counter cough or cold medicines aren’t always needed, but they may provide some help relieve certain symptoms. Sometimes a cough medicine can help make sleep more restful (which helps healing) or an expectorant can help make mucus runnier so you can cough it out better. It’s a good idea to discuss these with your child’s doctor, especially for younger kids.
If bronchitis isn’t clearing, sometimes doctors will prescribe an inhaler with “bronchodilator” medicine in it to help open up the airways (like that used for asthma) and sometimes a steroid medicine to calm the inflammation in the airways (again, as may be done for acute asthma).
If your child has any symptoms that have you concerned, you should always call your doctor, but acute bronchitis can often be helped most by what you have right at home.
Posted – February 12, 2012