If you’ve ever had bronchitis, you’d know that it’s nothing to joke about. From a chronic cough to shortness of breath, this sickness is far from pleasant. When it comes to bronchitis, there are two types: chronic and acute. Acute bronchitis is very common, while chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition. But while all forms of bronchitis can be a nuisance to your everyday life, is bronchitis contagious?

When answering such a heavy question, it all boils down to the type of bronchitis that you have. Chronic bronchitis, the more pressing form, is often caused by smoking cigarettes and it’s a long-term illness rather than a short-term one. Fortunately, this form is generally not contagious, so you can’t get it from another person or pass it on to someone else.

On the other hand, acute bronchitis is more short-term as it typically lasts for 7 to 10 days. This form is contagious, making it crucial that you keep your distance from people who may be at risk. Since acute bronchitis can go person to person, it can be hard to avoid it. Luckily, it’s not completely impossible.

How Is Bronchitis Transmitted?

Acute bronchitis can be transmitted as easily as the common cold. This means that the illness is transmitted through microscopic droplets that contain a germ that spreads through speaking, coughing, and sneezing. But just like the common cold, simply opening a door or even coming in contact with someone who has it can cause you to catch a case of acute bronchitis. Fortunately, you can reduce your chances of catching this illness by getting a flu shot. 

So, is everyone at risk for the infectious acute bronchitis?

While everyone can get acute bronchitis, some are more at risk than others. A portion of this group are people with weakened immune systems. When someone has a weakened immune system, it weakens your body’s ability to fight back against the germs you may encounter. People who are also at risk include those with chronic infections, elderly people, and children. While acute bronchitis may be short-term, it’s still nothing to mess around with. Because it’s so easily spread, it’s important to know the symptoms in order to stop it before it gets worse.

Symptoms and Incubation Period

When you have bronchitis, whether it’s short-term or long-term, the symptoms can make your day-to-day life pretty uncomfortable. Because acute bronchitis is contagious, it’s likely that symptoms will appear early on. Some of the most common symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chills

An incubation period is defined as the time elapsed between exposure to the illness to when the symptoms first begin to appear. For acute bronchitis, the incubation period lasts from 4 to 6 days. But before you actually experience symptoms, some tell-tale signs include fatigue, headaches, a runny nose, and a sore throat. 

Checking in With a Provider

As with any serious sickness, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider to get the proper treatment you need to fully recover. For bronchitis, this still reigns true. Although acute bronchitis typically goes away after several weeks, if it seems to be only getting worse, it’s important to see your provider. If you have a fever over 100.4°F (38°C), a cough that lasts more than 3 weeks, debilitating shortness of breath, or bloody mucus, it’s crucial you call your healthcare provider. 

During your visit, your health professional will cover your health history, listen to your breathing, and possibly perform a chest x-ray to determine the source of your cough. If you find that you’re having repeated episodes of acute bronchitis, it may mean that you are developing chronic bronchitis, making it even more important to consult your doctor for treatment. 

How Is Bronchitis Treated?

Most of the time, bronchitis is caused by a virus. In that case, it’s crucial that you get plenty of fluids and rest in order to let your body work its magic and recover. Once you see your healthcare provider, they may even prescribe you over-the-counter medication to help aid your journey back to health. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, so these will only be prescribed if your bronchitis is deemed to be bacterial.

How Is Bronchitis Prevented?

Although acute bronchitis is mostly caught during colder weather, you can catch it at any time. Because of the high-risk of this illness, it’s important to keep a few tips in mind when it comes to prevention. In order to reduce your risk of bronchitis, follow these tips:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly
  • Get your annual flu shot
  • Distance yourself from those who are sick
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes with dirty hands

The Bottom Line

All in all, any form of bronchitis is something to take very seriously. While chronic bronchitis isn’t contagious, acute bronchitis is, making it important to take the necessary precautions to avoid it. As uncomfortable as acute bronchitis is to live with, it usually goes away on its own. But if it doesn’t, consult your healthcare provider to prevent further infection.

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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