Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Learn How it Spreads

Woman coughing
Is bronchitis really contagious?. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Bronchitis is an infection in the lungs caused by swelling and inflammation. It can last for weeks or even months and is often a complication after a respiratory illness such as the common cold or flu. But is it contagious? Should you be concerned about catching bronchitis from someone else that has it?

In most cases, bronchitis is caused by a virus and generally is contagious. However, if you have the flu and develop bronchitis from it, the illness that you risk spreading is the flu (influenza), not necessarily bronchitis.

How Can I Spread a Different Illness if I Have Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis occurs when a virus attacks the lining of the airways leading into the lungs, causing swelling and an increase in mucus production. Bronchitis is not caused by one specific virus - it can be caused by any virus that causes a respiratory infection.

How the virus attacks your body and your body's reaction to it determine whether or not you will get bronchitis.

For example, if you get a cold and it attacks your airways instead of staying in your nose and throat like colds most often do, you can get bronchitis. However, it may not do that to someone else. So you are contagious and spreading the cold, but the next person who gets it may or may not get bronchitis. It all depends on how their body reacts to the virus.

Make sense?

The short answer to the question "is bronchitis contagious?" is yes. But the more accurate answer is "yes, but".

If you have bronchitis, you are contagious and can spread whatever illness it is that caused you to get bronchitis. That illness may lead to bronchitis in someone else or it may not.

What Should I Do If I Get Bronchitis?

Most cases of acute bronchitis resolve on their own within a week or so. The cough can linger for several weeks or even longer.

Because a majority of cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses, you should not take antibiotics to treat it. Antibiotics do not kill viruses and will not make you feel better any faster. Instead, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance. In a few cases, bronchitis may be caused by bacteria and your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection.

Treating bronchitis is similar to treating other viral infections - you can treat the symptoms but you have to wait for the virus to go away on its own.​

Things you can do to help relieve the cough include:

  • Taking over the counter medications
  • Taking prescribed medications (like an inhaler) as needed or recommended by your health care provider
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Using a humidifier

If you have bronchitis, talk to your health care provider about what treatment options are best for you. Do your best to stay away from people, especially those who are at high risk for serious illness such as infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Sources:

"What Is Bronchitis?" Explore Bronchitis 01 May 09. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. Department of Health and Human Services. 23 Apr 14.

"Acute Bronchitis." FamilyDoctor.org Jul 13. American Academy of Family Physicians. 24 Apr 14.

"Is Acute Bronchitis Contagious?" Diseases and Conditions 23 May 13. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 24 Apr 14.

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