Is Chronic or Acute Bronchitis Contagious?

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a condition that affects the passages of the nose and lungs and it is usually a result of repetitive irritation and injury to the lungs. The infection causes swelling and inflammation of the bronchi (bronchial tubes), which affects the flow of air and oxygen through the breathing channels and lungs.

This makes breathing difficult for bronchitis sufferers since their lung capacity is lowered dramatically. In addition to this, bronchitis causes excessive buildup of phlegm and mucus in lining of the bronchi and other infected tissues.

Depending upon the duration it can be acute or chronic bronchitis.

Is Chronic Bronchitis Contagious?

Is Bronchitis Contagious

Chronic bronchitis is not contagious if it develops as a result of airway irritation from substances such as smoking (the leading cause of chronic bronchitis), dust, fumes or other pollutants in the air.

However, if chronic bronchitis develops into acute bronchitis or is due to a bacterial or viral infection, then the individual becomes contagious, particularly if chronic bronchitis symptoms appear to get worse with time.

Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms

There are several common telltale symptoms associated with chronic bronchitis, which include the following:

  • Coughing – A dry, powerful and lingering cough that lasts for at least three months (for several days at a time) to up to two years is common with chronic bronchitis. The coughing, which can lead to fainting or injury from broken ribs and damaged chest walls, is usually painful and causes extreme soreness in the abdominal muscles and chest.
  • Excessive phlegm and mucus – The chronic bronchitis infection causes a buildup of mucus and phlegm (which is usually green, clear, white or yellow) in the lungs and lower respiratory tract that can make pneumonia a serious concern.
  • Wheezing – The tightening of muscles in the chest along with inflamed breathing passages causes wheezing, which generally happens as the bronchitis infection gets worse (sometimes developing into acute bronchitis).
  • Shortness of breath – In addition to wheezing, shortness of breath is another common symptom of chronic bronchitis that is usually seen in individuals who also suffer from asthmatic bronchitis.
  • Fatigue – A feeling of being very tired and exhausted typically accompanies chronic bronchitis.

Is Acute Bronchitis Contagious?

The fact that acute bronchitis is usually caused by bacterium (such as Pneumococcus) and viral infections (such as cold, flu or influenza) makes it incredibly contagious and facilitates direct and indirect transmission from person to person.

Mucus from individuals infected with the germs that cause acute bronchitis can be shared with others through kissing, sneezing or coughing. However, if the illness is caused by exposure to chemicals and pollutants, the opposite is true.

Acute Bronchitis Symptoms

Common Symptoms of acute bronchitis typically include the following:

  • Hacking cough – A nagging cough is the main symptom of bronchitis and can last for several days to as long as several weeks after the inflammation goes away.
  • Mucus production – Sputum that is yellowish-gray, clear, green or white is common, with blood tinged mucus being rare.
  • No fever or a mild fever with chills
  • Chest tenderness
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue

In additional to the above symptoms, children with acute bronchitis may experience the following symptoms as well:

  • Runny Nose
  • Vomiting mucus

Warning: See a medical professional immediately if a fever of over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit develops as well as body aches, breathlessness and a lack of appetite. These symptoms can indicate pneumonia, which requires a course of antibiotics for treatment.

How Long is Bronchitis Contagious?

Bronchitis infections are usually contagious for between a few days and up to a full week, with the type of virus dictating the average length of time.

Usually it is assumed that an individual will remain contagious for as long as a full week. Bacterial bronchitis is contagious even after antibiotic treatment. This is because it is hard to figure out which specific virus strain (out of the hundreds that exist) is causing the illness without having tests done by a doctor. But the best approach is to assume that the bronchitis remains contagious as long as as the sufferer continues to cough or manifest cold symptoms.


There are several treatment options available for individuals suffering with chronic and acute bronchitis.

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for bronchitis because the disease typically results from viral infections, which antibiotics do not address. Despite this fact, if a particular case of bronchitis is caused by bacteria, the infection will clear after taking antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.
  • Cough medicine – Coughing is important for removing the buildup of phlegm and mucus from infected airways and lungs, so suppression is not usually recommended for individuals with bronchitis. However, if sleep is severely disrupted because of a constant cough, a cough medicine can make it easier to get quality rest.
  • Prescription medication – In order to open up blocked airways and soothe lung inflammation, a doctor may prescribe either an inhaler or other types of prescription medications, particularly if the individual also suffers from conditions such as asthma, allergies or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Respiratory therapy – Another option for treating chronic bronchitis involves doing regular breathing exercises with the help of a respiratory therapist. Also known as pulmonary rehabilitation, the program promotes easier breathing and increased physical activity, which is very beneficial for bronchitis sufferers.

Spread Prevention

There are several effective ways to prevent the spread of acute bronchitis infection, which is highly contagious. These methods include the following:

  • Stay away from people who already have the disease.
  • Do not use or share personal items with individuals suffering from bronchitis.
  • Prevent the contraction of common virus strains that cause acute bronchitis by getting vaccinated against the disease.
  • When an individual has to cough or sneeze they should always keep the mouth covered.
  • Frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizer and other healthy personal hygiene habits should be practiced regularly to prevent the spread of the bronchitis virus.
  • Avoid breathing in air that is contaminated with industrial pollutants (such as exhaust fumes) and cigarette smoke to prevent the development of chronic bronchitis.
  • Keep hands and fingers away from the mouth, nose and eyes.

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