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Top 10 OTC Treatments for Bronchitis

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 20, 2024

Bronchitis is a respiratory infection that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, leading to coughing. Most cases of bronchitis are caused by a virus and the goal of treatment is to reduce your cough and other symptoms. Some bronchitis, however, is caused by a bacterial infection, and you’ll need to see a doctor, who will likely prescribe an antibiotic to treat it.

This article will explore the causes, symptoms, types, and treatment options for bronchitis. We will highlight the top 10 over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that can relieve bronchitis symptoms. Whether you're looking for a cough suppressant or a sore throat spray, we've got you covered.

What Are the Treatment Options for Bronchitis?

The treatment options for bronchitis include antibiotics for bacterial infections, cough suppressants to reduce coughing, mucolytic agents to help thin and loosen mucus in the airways, and bronchodilators to improve respiratory function if your cough is causing breathing problems.

Other approaches that can help your symptoms include using steam inhalation, drinking enough fluids, and rest.

Antibiotics

Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic if you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection, either bacterial bronchitis or an underlying infection that’s causing the cough.

Antibiotics work by targeting the bacteria responsible for the infection. They’re necessary to get rid of the infection.

By effectively eradicating the bacteria, antibiotics can prevent bronchitis from progressing into a more severe respiratory illness, such as pneumonia. It's important to use antibiotics only when necessary and as directed by a healthcare provider. Overuse of antibiotics is contributing to antibiotic resistance.

Cough Suppressants

Cough suppressants can help reduce your cough. These medications work by calming the urge to cough, allowing the body to recover without the strain of continuous coughing.

By reducing the frequency and intensity of coughing episodes, it can help you sleep better, reduce chest pain, and help you feel better quicker.

Cough suppressants may also help prevent complications from intense coughing such as rib fractures or muscle strain.

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are utilized in bronchitis to improve respiratory function by dilating the airways, making it easier to breathe.

Bronchodilators relax the smooth muscles of the airways, allowing for increased airflow in and out of the lungs. This can help relieve wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. A few types of bronchodilators are available over–the-counter, but your doctor may give you a prescription for one,

Expectorants

Expectorants are used to help get rid of mucus from your lungs, providing relief from congestion and clearing of airways in bronchitis.

They work by loosening and thinning mucus, making it easier to cough up. Expectorants can help reduce coughing and relieve discomfort caused by chest congestion.

Fever reducers

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen may be recommended for bronchitis if you have a fever, muscle aches, or sore throat. If you have a fever with a cough, it’s one sign that you may have a bacterial infection so it’s important to see a doctor.

What Are the Top 10 OTC Treatments for Bronchitis?

When seeking relief from bronchitis, several over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are available, including medications designed to alleviate symptoms and promote respiratory comfort.

1. Mucinex

Mucinex

Mucinex is an expectorant that works by thinning mucus, making it easier to expel from the airways. This relieves congestion and coughing. Its active ingredient, guaifenesin, helps break down dense and sticky mucus, allowing the body to effectively clear the air passages.

2. Robitussin

Robitussin

Robitussin is a cough suppressant that offers relief from coughing. Robitussin contains dextromethorphan, which helps suppress coughing and reduce throat irritation for those with bronchitis. This can lead to a more restful sleep. Additionally, Robitussin can break up mucus in the airways, making it easier to expel and promoting easier breathing.

3. Advil


Advil

Advil, an OTC NSAID, can be taken if you have a fever and to reduce inflammation in the airways. By reducing inflammation in the airways, Advil (ibuprofen) helps reduce symptoms of bronchitis, such as chest tightness and coughing.

4. Tylenol

Tylenol

Tylenol (acetaminophen), is effective in reducing fever and providing pain relief in bronchitis. It may also help with body aches. If you have a fever with a cough, it’s one sign that you may have a bacterial infection so it’s important to see a doctor.

5. Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub

Vicks VapoRub is a chest rub used for bronchitis, offering relief from chest discomfort. Vicks VapoRub includes menthol and eucalyptus oil. This blend provides a cooling sensation on the chest, which can help with breathing difficulties caused by bronchitis. This chest rub not only eases chest tightness and discomfort, but it also helps to open up the airways, making breathing easier during bouts of bronchitis.

6. Theraflu

Theraflu

Theraflu is an OTC medication that contains several different ingredients that treat fever, sore throat, cough, and congestion. It contains acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain, cough suppressant, and decongestants. This type of multi-drug medication may be helpful for overall relief and can help you sleep better. If you’re taking it, make sure you’re not taking other cold and flu medications, so you don’t accidentally take more than the recommendations of any medication.

7. Sudafed

Sudafed

Sudafed is an OTC nasal decongestant that works by shrinking swollen blood vessels in the nasal passages. This reduces congestion and dries up mucus, allowing air to flow more freely.

8. Halls Cough Drops

Halls Cough Drops

Halls Cough Drops are OTC lozenges that may help reduce your cough and can help with an irritated throat. These soothing drops contain menthol, which acts as a mild anesthetic, gently numbing the irritated throat tissues and providing a soothing effect.

9. Ricola

Ricola

Ricola is an herbal cough drop. It contains a blend of ten natural herbs, including mountain thyme, peppermint, and elderflower. These herbs are known for their soothing and expectorant properties, making them a great choice for relieving coughs and supporting the body's natural defense mechanisms.

10. Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray

Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray

Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray helps relieve throat pain and irritation that you may have from bronchitis. The spray contains menthol or other numbing agents that make swallowing less painful.

What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a respiratory infection that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, leading to coughing and breathing difficulties.

Bronchitis narrows the air passages in the lungs, making it harder for air to flow in and out. Common symptoms of bronchitis include persistent cough, production of mucus, fatigue, and chest discomfort.

When infected, the bronchial tubes become swollen and irritated, leading to the accumulation of mucus, which triggers the body to cough in an attempt to expel it. Bronchitis may cause wheezing and shortness of breath due to the restricted airflow.

What Causes Bronchitis?

Bronchitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections that affect the bronchial tubes, leading to inflammation and respiratory symptoms.

When a viral infection such as the flu, COVID, or common cold infiltrates the bronchial tubes, it triggers an inflammatory response that results in coughing, wheezing, and mucus production.

On the other hand, bacterial infections like Mycoplasma pneumoniae can also lead to bronchitis, causing similar respiratory symptoms and potentially more severe complications. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important for effectively managing and treating bronchitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

Bronchitis symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and sometimes fever. You may also have cold symptoms like congestion and a runny nose.

Coughing

Coughing is the main symptom of bronchitis. Coughs can linger for weeks after other symptoms have improved. This persistent cough can be quite uncomfortable, leading to chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, and disrupted sleep.

Shortness of Breath

Some people may have shortness of breath, a feeling that it is difficult to breathe comfortably. This can significantly affect daily activities such as exercise, walking, and even simple tasks like climbing stairs. The feeling of breathlessness can cause anxiety and disrupt sleep.

It is essential to seek medical attention to manage these symptoms and prevent complications associated with prolonged respiratory distress.

Chest Discomfort

You may also feel some chest discomfort from the buildup of mucus and the shortness of breath. This discomfort can range from mild to severe and can feel like a persistent, nagging sensation or a sharp, stabbing pain.

For many, this chest discomfort can make simple activities like breathing, coughing, or even lying down uncomfortable.

Fatigue

If you’re coughing a lot and recovering from a virus or bacterial infection, you’ll likely feel some fatigue. It’s a sign that your body is fighting an infection, and frankly, the coughing can be exhausting.

It’s a good idea to try not to do too much as it's the body's way of signaling the need for rest and recovery.

Fever

Fever is a sign of the body's immune response to the respiratory infection. When the body detects the presence of a virus or bacteria, it triggers a cascade of reactions, including raising your body temperature. This fever response is actually an important defense mechanism, as it creates an environment that is less favorable for the invading microorganisms.

Persistent or high fever can also indicate a more severe infection or complications in bronchitis. If you have a fever with a cough, you should see a doctor to make sure you don’t have a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic.

What Are the Types of Bronchitis?

There are two types of bronchitis: acute bronchitis, which is temporary and often associated with viral infections, and chronic bronchitis, which is a long-term condition linked to persistent respiratory issues.

Acute bronchitis is usually triggered by viral infections such as the flu or common cold, leading to inflammation of the bronchial tubes. It often resolves on its own within a few weeks.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is typically caused by long-term exposure to irritants such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, or dust. This ongoing irritation leads to a persistent cough with mucus, shortness of breath, and other respiratory symptoms. Both types of bronchitis can impact respiratory health, with acute bronchitis causing temporary discomfort and chronic bronchitis posing more long-term challenges.

Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is a temporary condition often caused by viral infections, leading to inflammation in the bronchial tubes. It causes coughing, chest congestion, and sometimes shortness of breath. Viral infections, such as the flu, COVID, or common cold, can trigger acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis typically improves on its own within a few weeks, though some can linger for a month or so,

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition caused by ongoing inflammation in the bronchial tubes. This inflammation can cause a persistent cough and difficulty breathing.

The ongoing irritation and damage to the airways can lead to recurrent infections and diminished lung function over time, affecting your overall respiratory health.

Despite treatment efforts, the symptoms of chronic bronchitis can persist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use OTC treatments for bronchitis instead of prescription medication?

In most cases, bronchitis can be effectively treated with OTC treatments alone. However, if your symptoms are severe or if you have a pre-existing medical condition, it's important to consult with your doctor before using any OTC treatments.

What is the best OTC cough suppressant for bronchitis?

The best OTC cough suppressant for bronchitis is one that contains dextromethorphan, such as Robitussin or Delsym. These medications work by blocking the cough reflex and can provide relief from coughing.

Are there any natural OTC treatments for bronchitis?

Yes, there are several natural OTC treatments for bronchitis, such as herbal remedies like eucalyptus and peppermint, which can help soothe cough and congestion. Additionally, taking vitamin C and zinc supplements may help boost your immune system and help you recover.

Can OTC treatments for bronchitis interact with other medications I am taking?

Yes, some OTC treatments for bronchitis may interact with other medications you are taking. It's important to always read the labels and consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medication, especially if you are taking prescription medication.

How can I prevent bronchitis in the first place?

To prevent bronchitis, it's important to maintain good hygiene, avoid exposure to respiratory irritants, and quit smoking if you are a smoker. Additionally, staying hydrated, getting enough rest, and taking immune-boosting supplements can also help prevent bronchitis.