The term bronchitis refers to inflammation of the major air passageways in the lungs, the bronchi. There are two principal types of bronchitis: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. The latter is closely related to emphysema and is discussed in the article Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Acute bronchitis, the subject of this article, is a condition that frequently develops during the course of a common cold. Symptoms may include cough (dry or productive), sensation of heaviness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.

In recent years, it has become clear that, in many cases, symptoms of bronchitis represent temporary asthma brought on by a respiratory infection. For this reason, anti-asthma drugs are now commonly a major component of treatment. Antibiotics may be used as well.

Essential Oil Monoterpenes

Aromatic essential oils, such as eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil (menthol), have a long history of use as inhalation treatments for respiratory infections. Because the supporting evidence for such treatments is quite weak, they are discussed below inOther Proposed Treatments. Considerably better evidence supports the use of certain essential oils when taken by mouth.

One combination of essential oils has been extensively evaluated as a treatment for respiratory problems. This mixture, called essential oil monoterpenes, consists of cineole from eucalyptus, d-limonene from citrus fruit, and alpha-pinene from pine. Numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, many of substantial size, indicate that essential oil monoterpenes can aid recovery from sinusitis, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions.1-7

One large study evaluated the effectiveness of essential oil monoterpenes for acute bronchitis. In this 2-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 676 people with acute bronchitis, participants received either placebo, essential oil monoterpenes, or one of two antibiotics.5 The results indicate that the essential oil mixture was significantly more effective than placebo and at least as effective as antibiotic therapy.

For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Essential Oil Monoterpene article.

Pelargonium sidoides

An alcohol extract made from the herb Pelargonium sidoides has become popular in Germany as a treatment for various respiratory problems. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 468 adults with recent onset of acute bronchitis were given either placebo or a standard alcohol extract of Pelargonium sidoides3 times daily for a week.13The results showed a significantly greater improvement in symptoms in the treatment group as compared to the placebo group. On average, participants who received the real treatment were able to return to work 2 days earlier than those given placebo. Benefits were also seen in two other studies enrolling a total of about 350 people.14-15 When researchers pooled the results of 4 well-designed, placebo-controlled trials, they found that a standardized extract of Pelargoniumperformed significantly better than placebo at reducing the symptoms of bronchitis by the seventh day of treatment.18

For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Pelargonium sidoides article.