Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Learn How Bronchitis Spreads

Physician listening to woman's cough

Bronchitis is defined as swelling and inflammation in the lungs. 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, what you are spreading is the virus that has led to bronchitis, not actual bronchitis.

 Not everyone who gets sick from that virus will have bronchitis. For example, if you have the flu and develop bronchitis from it, the illness that you risk spreading is the flu (influenza), not necessarily bronchitis.

It's important to note that this article refers to acute bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is another condition entirely and it is generally not contagious.

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

Acute bronchitis occurs when a virus attacks the lining of the airways that lead 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.

So again, the short answer to the question "is bronchitis contagious?" is yes. But the more accurate answer is "yes, but..." because if you have bronchitis, you are contagious and can spread whatever illness it is that caused you to have 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. A cough can linger for several weeks or even longer.

Symptoms you may experience include:

  • A cough - may start dry and painful then progress to productive with yellow or green mucus
  • Sore throat
  • Pain in the chest
  • Chest congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chills
  • Body aches

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.

Treatment Options

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 a 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.

A Word From Verywell

Acute bronchitis is a fairly common illness that can affect anyone. If you or someone you know has it, you may be contagious, but probably won't give anyone else bronchitis. You'll give them whatever virus you had that led to bronchitis (such as the common cold).

Most people recover from bronchitis without any further complications or treatment. It may take a while, but that annoying cough will eventually go away. If you feel your symptoms are worsening instead of improving, it's important to talk to your health care provider about your unique situation.


"Acute Bronchitis." Jul 13. American Academy of Family Physicians.

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

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

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