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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Stop a Cold in Just 12 Hours

If You're Prone to Acute Bronchitis

A few days after cold symptoms appear, you may notice trouble brewing in your lungs. "Upper respiratory tract infections develop in the — no surprise — upper airways and then spread to the lower," notes Ron Eccles, Ph.D., director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University in Wales. That's why you start coughing two or three days after a cold begins — a sign your windpipe and the tiny tubes in your lungs are becoming inflamed. These steps can help protect against infection.

  • Steer clear of cigarettes. Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke weaken your ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. At the same time, dozens of nasty chemicals in tobacco smoke may cause inflammation in your airways, further slowing the cilia. The result: more coughing, as you try to clear globs of mucus.

  • Don't curl up in front of the fire. Breathing in the tiny particles in wood smoke can be especially irritating to airways when you have a cold, says Melvin Pratter, M.D., head of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ. One report estimates that emissions from wood fires (as well as coal-fired power plants, cars, and other sources) cause 20,000 cases of acute bronchitis a year. If you use a wood stove for heat, be sure it burns efficiently; best is one certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Skip spray cleaners. Aerosol and pump-bottle products contain chemicals that can irritate lungs, says Dr. Pratter. "When you have a respiratory infection, take a brief holiday from cleaning."

  • Try ivy-leaf extract. In a German study of 1,350 children and adults with chronic bronchitis, more than 85 percent of those who took this botanical remedy had less pain, coughing, and mucus production. Several varieties of the extract are sold in natural foods stores.

  • Call the doctor if you have a fever, shortness of breath, or a severe cough; you have asthma, emphysema, or COPD; or you get bronchitis often.

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