Bronchitis - like all other words ending in 'itis' - indicates a state of inflammation, in this case, an inflammation of the bronchi (bronchial tubes). Before we can consider the appropriate aromatherapy treatment, we need to distinguish between acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is a feverish condition, usually lasting a few days, with a harsh and painful cough. At first the cough is very dry, but as the lungs produce additional mucus in response to the infection, the cough becomes easier and less painful as the mucus lubricates the bronchi. Acute bronchitis usually originates with a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold or sore throat, spreading to the lungs. Aromatherapy treatment aims at combating the infection, reducing fever, easing the cough and expelling mucus. In the first stages, when the cough is dry and painful, steam inhalation with Benzoin, Bergamot, Eucalyptus, Lavender or Sandalwood will give a great deal of relief. Bergamot and Eucalyptus oils are also effective in lowering fever, and all these oils will help to reinforce the body's own defence mechanism in response to the infection. In the latter stages of acute bronchitis, it is very important to clear all the mucus from the lungs, to prevent complications, and any of the essential oils described as expectorant will be helpful: Basil, Benzoin, Bergamot, Marjoram, Myrrh, Sandalwood or Thyme have all been used effectively, but of these I most often use Benzoin, Bergamot, Sandalwood or Thyme. The cough may persist for some time after the fever has subsided, but inhalations, baths and local massage to chest and throat with expectorant oils will shorten the time needed for full recovery.

A person suffering from acute bronchitis obviously needs to be kept warm and rested, preferably in bed. It is important to avoid anything which can aggravate the cough, such as smoke, and very dry air. If you have central heating which dries the air, it can be helpful to vapourise some water in the patient's room to make breathing less painful and irritating. The old-fashioned steam kettle was designed to do just this, but you can use a humidifier over a radiator, an ordinary electric kettle boiled in the room two or three times in the course of the day and last thing at night, or any of the various devices that use a candle or nightlight to evaporate water slowly. A few drops of any of the essential oils already mentioned can be added to the water for greater effect.

Most adults will recover from an attack of bronchitis fairly quickly and without complications, given this care and treatment, but the very elderly and frail, babies and young children, and people with heart conditions or a history of lung infections, are at much greater risk and must always be under properly qualified supervision. If antibiotics are necessary you can safely, and in fact advantageously, continue with aromatherapy treatment as described, and you should also make sure that the patient eats plenty of live natural yoghurt, or takes lactobacillus tablets, to offset the damaging effects of antibiotics on the friendly bacteria in the gut.

Chronic bronchitis, as the word 'chronic' implies, is a long-term condition without fever. It is characterised by a permanent cough with sputum, due to continual over-production of mucus. Healthy lungs normally produce a small amount of mucus all the time, and this is constantly swept up the bronchi by small hair-like projections called cilia. This process goes on all the time without us noticing it, as the amount of mucus is very small, and it is swallowed imperceptibly with our saliva. But when irritation of the bronchi, due to infection, air pollution, smoking, or other external irritants, provokes the production of abnormally large amounts of mucus, this literally swamps the minute cilia. The deep layer of mucus covers the cilia, so they can no longer propel it upwards. Then the body can only get rid of the mucus by coughing.

Chronic bronchitis is usually classified into three grades of severity - simple chronic bronchitis, which is mild but persistent with clear sputum: mucopurulent bronchitis, in which the sputum is occasionally or continually thick and often yellowish, due to the presence of pus caused by bacterial infection: and obstructive bronchitis, which occurs when structural damage has been caused by continual infection, inflammation and coughing. The bronchi become narrowed because the membrane that lines them gets thicker and scarred. The lungs lose some of their elasticity, so breathing becomes more difficult, as greater effort is needed to get a sufficient volume of air into the lungs. The amount of alveolar tissue is reduced, due to damage. This is the very thin membrane through which oxygen passes into the blood, and carbon dioxide and other waste material is extracted. Eventually the heart may be overstrained in trying to maintain sufficient circulation within the lungs.

The death rate from this form of bronchitis is higher in Great Britain than anywhere else in the world. The climate and air pollution are serious contributing factors, especially when the two combine to produce fog. But the two most important factors are smoking and bad nutrition. Smokers are still more likely to die from chronic bronchitis than from lung cancer, and to give up smoking is the first and most important preventive measure. The other is to improve the level of nutrition, and particularly to cut out or greatly reduce those foods which encourage the production of mucus. These are, for most people, dairy products and refined starches. Of the two, dairy products seem to be the worst culprits, and cutting them right out of the diet for a time - maybe several weeks, or months if the bronchitis is of long standing - will often bring about an enormous improvement. After that, cheese, milk, etc., may be cautiously reintroduced but in very small amounts only. For some people, it may be necessary to omit them from the diet permanently.

Goats milk is often found to be less mucus-forming than cows milk. Starches also provoke excessive mucus production, and refined starches (white flour and all products made from it) are far worse than unrefined grains. Additives, such as chemical flavourings, colourings and preservatives often trigger mucus excess as well, and should be avoided. The best and simplest riile is to eat foods in a state as near as possible to that in which they were grown, i.e., not processed, dried, frozen, packaged or pre-cooked, and as often as possible eat them raw or very lightly cooked.

Essential oils to help the detoxifying process should include Garlic, in capsule or tablet form, as well as fresh in the diet. Cedarwood, Frankincense, Juniper, Myrrh and Rosemary all help to reduce the amount of mucus produced, and one or more of the expectorant oils will need to be used to help clear it from the lungs. Of these, Benzoin is one of the most helpful, and in fact a combination of three resins - Benzoin, Myrrh and Frankincense - used in baths and inhalations, is a very effective treatment. In traditional Chinese medicine Ginger is used for any condition where the body is not coping effectively with moisture, whether internal or external, and chronic bronchitis is a perfect example of such a condition, for while the lungs are not dealing effectively with their internal moisture - mucus - the situation is undoubtedly aggravated by wet external conditions, such as the British climate or bad housing. Fresh root ginger can be sliced and made into an infusion (or 'tea'} which is a very palatable and warming drink. About six thin slivers from a ginger root of average thickness should be simmered in a large cupful of water for about ten minutes, and then strained and drunk with half a teaspoon of honey. This drink can be taken two or three times a day, especially in winter.

Although all these essential oils are very valuable indeed in treating chronic bronchitis, they will not be fully effective if the other factors involved are not taken into consideration. We can't do much about the climate, but landlords or local authorities can be pressed to improve damp housing, and the individual must be prepared to take responsibility for making any dietary changes that would help, and it goes without saying that smoking will render any treatment virtually useless.

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