Bronchitis is a common respiratory disease caused by viruses, bacteria, irritants such as smoke, and other particles that aggravate the bronchial tubes. These tubes bring air from the nose and mouth to the lungs.

You may be able to treat acute bronchitis on your own without medical treatment. In many causes, symptoms improve within two weeks.

It’s important to treat your symptoms at the first sign of them to ensure a rapid recovery. With proper self-care, you should be able to bounce back quickly. But if the bronchitis worsens and your lungs sound congested, seek medical advice.

It’s possible to treat acute bronchitis at home using natural remedies. Many of these methods may provide additional health benefits as well.

1. Ginger

Some researchers have found evidence that ginger can have an anti-inflammatory effect against respiratory infection. You can take ginger in several ways:

  • Chew dried, crystallized ginger.
  • Use fresh ginger to make tea.
  • Eat it raw or add it to food.
  • Take it in capsule form as directed.

It’s safest to use ginger in a natural form, rather than in capsules or supplements. You may be sensitive to ginger, so take it in small amounts if you’re not used to it. Eating occasional ginger is safe for everyone, but do not take ginger as a supplement or medication if you:

  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have diabetes
  • have heart problems
  • have any type of blood disorder

Learn more: What are the benefits and side effects of ginger water? »

2. Garlic

Garlic is said to have countless healing properties. Results of a 2016 study show that garlic effectively inhibited the growth of infectious bronchitis virus. This finding suggests garlic can be used as a natural remedy for bronchitis.

Fresh garlic is best, but if you dislike the taste you may take garlic in capsule form.

Use garlic with caution if you have a bleeding disorder. Always take it in small amounts to make sure it doesn’t upset your stomach.

Learn more: Foods with healing power: The benefits of garlic »

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice often used in East Indian foods. A 2011 study found turmeric provided more anti-inflammatory effects than ginger. Turmeric also increases antioxidant activity. That means it may help reduce irritation and boost your immunity.

To take turmeric:

  • Add fresh turmeric to salads or use it to make pickles.
  • Mix 1/2 teaspoon of powdered turmeric with 1 teaspoon of honey to make a paste. Consume the paste 1 to 3 times per day while symptoms last.
  • Take turmeric in capsule form as directed.
  • Use powdered or fresh turmeric to make tea.

Using turmeric as a spice in food is usually safe unless you are sensitive. Do not use turmeric as a medication if you have:

If you’re pregnant or nursing, don’t take turmeric in large amounts.

Learn more: 7 ways turmeric tea benefits your health »

4. Steam

Steam helps break up mucus so you can expel it more easily. The easiest way to use steam is in the bath or shower. Make your shower as hot as you can handle, step in, then breathe deeply through your mouth and nose.

The hot water will also help relax muscles that may be tense from coughing. You can also visit a steam room at a gym or spa, if one’s available and you have enough energy. It’s best not to soak in a hot bath if you feel ill or short of breath.

Another steam option involves putting hot water in a bowl, covering your head with a towel, and inhaling the steam. Some people add a mentholated vapor rub to the hot water to help with moving mucus. The bowl-and-towel method can be dangerous, though, because the water could be hotter than you intended, which could cause the steam to burn your airways. Do not stay over the hot water for more than a minute or two at a time, and don’t continue to heat the water.

5. Salt water

Gargling salt water may help break up mucus and reduce pain in your throat. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water. Sip small amounts of the salt water and gargle at the back of your throat. Do not swallow the water. Instead, spit it out in the sink. Repeat as often as you like. Afterwards, you may want to rinse your mouth with plain water.

6. Sleep

Get plenty of sleep and allow your body to rest. It may be difficult to sleep soundly while fighting a cough, but take care to avoid any unnecessary activity. It is during the deep stages of sleep that you repair and enhance immune function so your body can better fight the inflammation.

7. Lifestyle changes

A healthy lifestyle goes hand in hand with the prevention of illnesses. It can help you recover faster when you’re sick, too. A minor illness may even be your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take it easy.

The following changes may help improve your recovery and reduce your risk of getting sick in the future:

  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke environments.
  • Avoid polluted environments.
  • Wear a surgical mask if you’re exposed to pollution.
  • Boost your immunity with a healthy diet.
  • Exercise at least 3 times per week for a minimum of 20 minutes each time.
  • Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Use a humidifier and clean it regularly following the manufacturer’s guidelines.

You can pair over-the-counter (OTC) medications with the suggested natural remedies. The following medications may be helpful:

  • aspirin (do not take aspirin if you take other blood thinner medications)
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • expectorant cough syrup

Antibiotics will only work if the bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses or irritant inflammation, so they’re not usually used to treat bronchitis.

Bronchitis causes excess mucus production and a tightening of your airways. The increased phlegm can make it difficult to breath and cause a persistent cough.

The cough may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • white or colored mucus
  • tightness in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • chills
  • muscle aches
  • nasal congestion
  • tiredness

Bronchitis often comes as you are healing from a cold or viral infection.

Read more: What does the color of my phlegm mean? »

Chronic bronchitis

Long-term bronchitis occurs as a result of breathing environmental irritants. The number one cause is smoking. You may also develop chronic bronchitis from inhaling second-hand smoke or polluted air.

Long-term bronchitis could also result from an extended illness. Infants and older adults are especially prone to chronic bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis occurs frequently and lasts at least 3 months out of a year for at least 2 years. It involves a wet cough for most days in a month.

If you have chronic bronchitis, you’ll need medical care from a doctor or respiratory therapist. They’ll help you work out a plan for managing your condition. It’s important to treat chronic bronchitis because it leaves you vulnerable to other health complications.

If you think you aren’t recovering at a normal rate, visit your doctor.

You may also consider seeing your doctor if you have:

  • coughing that lasts more than a month
  • extremely painful cough
  • high fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • severe headache
  • blood with your cough
  • frequent cases of bronchitis

Symptoms of acute bronchitis usually resolve within 1 to 2 weeks with home treatment. You should start to feel noticeably better after a few days. A dry cough may last up to a month. Remember:

  • Drink plenty of water and warm liquids, and eat healthy foods.
  • Rest as much as possible until you feel completely healthy.
  • Incorporate as many aspects of a healthy lifestyle into your daily routine to maintain your health.

If your symptoms do not improve with home care, or if you frequently develop bronchitis, see your doctor. You may need more aggressive treatment, or you may have chronic bronchitis.