Is bronchitis contagious? In most cases, only acute bronchitis is contagious. Learn more about when bronchitis is contagious, and how to prevent it from spreading.
What is bronchitis?
Tubes made of glandular goblet cells that direct air into your lungs, also known as bronchi, are located below the trachea. These goblet cells are responsible for producing mucus that keeps the bronchi clean and the airways clear. Due to a reaction to certain elements, like dust, chemicals, or smoke, these goblet cells become inflamed, obstructing the airways, leading to coughing. Inflammation of goblet cells can also be due to viruses similar to those that can lead to the flu or respiratory infections.
How do you know whether or not someone has bronchitis?
Bronchitis is always indicated by a cough, which may be dry or filled with phlegm. The presence or absence of phlegm only signifies the extent of the infection, as significant phlegm production points to a possible infection of the lungs themselves.
Types of bronchitis
Bronchitis can either be acute or chronic, but also allergic:
- Acute bronchitis: This is the most common type of bronchitis, which often develops due to infection around the respiratory system or a cold or flu virus. This type of bronchitis is very common and usually goes away in a few days or weeks, depending on the type of care.
- Chronic bronchitis: This is a much more serious type of bronchitis, often requiring medical attention. You know you have chronic bronchitis when your bronchi are constantly getting inflamed year after year and the symptoms last for months.
- Allergic bronchitis: Allergic bronchitis results from an allergic reaction to a specific allergen that triggers a response.
What is asthmatic bronchitis?
The bronchitis infection can be contracted even if you do not have asthma. However, an individual with asthma has a higher chance of contracting a bronchitis infection compared to a person without asthma. Asthma usually constricts the vessels responsible for air transportation. This already put an asthmatic person at higher risk of getting a bronchitis infection.
The blocked airways as result of asthma will prompt the air vessels into secreting mucus. This mucus will then block air passages. As a result, anything inside the lungs will be trapped, for instance, bacteria and virus during an asthma attack. With time, the residue in the lungs will damage the tissues of the lungs, increasing your chances of getting bronchitis.
What is the difference between asthma and bronchitis?
When the lining of your bronchial tubes becomes inflamed, this condition is called bronchitis. The bronchial tubes typically carry air from your lungs.
On the other hand, asthma is a condition where the air passages in the lungs become swollen, producing excess mucus. This can cause shortness in breath, and will trigger coughing or wheezing. It makes it difficult and laborious for a person to breathe.
Although both bronchitis and asthma are conditions of the lungs, the causes of each condition are different. People can contract bronchitis as a result of a respiratory infection or other health conditions. Asthma, on the other hand, does not have a direct cause. Researchers have established that asthma may be as result of both hereditary and environmental factors.
On a cellular level, the two lung conditions are very different. Bronchitis is usually linked to those cells that fight against infections, whereas asthma can be related to the cells that are responsible for inflammation.
Symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis
Symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis are very similar compared to other types of bronchitis. Without a correct diagnosis, the symptoms of bronchitis can be misdiagnosed.
The symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Production of excess mucus
- Low fever
- Tightness and restriction in the chest
Diagnosis of asthmatic bronchitis may be difficult, so it’s important to see your doctor right away.
You seek further medical treatment if the severity of the symptoms become worse, if there is no improvement despite using your asthma inhaler, or if you develop a high fever.
What causes asthmatic bronchitis?
There is no known, direct cause of asthmatic bronchitis. Bronchitis is known to be either bacterial or viral.
However, causes of asthma are known to be enhanced by factors such as your environment. For example, if you have asthma and you are a smoker, you put yourself at a much higher risk of contracting asthmatic bronchitis. This is because smoking is already damaging your airways.
Furthermore, breathing in areas that are polluted will increase your chance of getting the infection. If you are asthmatic, these triggers may expose you to greater risks of getting bronchitis.
Make sure you discuss all environmental factors that could trigger asthmatic bronchitis with your doctor to determine the cause of any infection, condition, or disease.
How is asthmatic bronchitis treated?
You will be prescribed antibiotics if your bronchitis results from an infection. Asthmatic bronchitis treatment, however, will be centered towards reducing the inflammation of the airways.
It’s imperative that the airways be kept as open as possible at all times, so any excess mucus can be eliminated from the body. Steroids that will help reduce the inflammation will be used. You will be required to inhale these steroids as they will reduce any inflammation, which may occur in your lungs. You may also be directed to use oxygen supplements or air therapy treatments in the comfort of your own home.
How to prevent asthmatic bronchitis
Controlling your asthma is an important way to keep you from getting asthmatic bronchitis. Take steps to control your exposure to air irritants. This is another way to inhibit the development of asthmatic bronchitis, and worsening of your asthma.
These measures can include:
- Getting air filters and a humidifier installed in your home
- If you work in places where there is frequent air pollution, always wear masks or utilize air filters
- Limit your interaction with pets such as cats or dogs, as they produce highly irritating dander
- Getting an annual flu vaccination. If you have asthma and contract the flu, your symptoms will be much more severe
When your asthma becomes controlled, bronchitis may go away on its own.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
Acute bronchitis is the most common known type of bronchitis and it can be identified by a number of symptoms. Symptoms of acute bronchitis usually start with a cold, followed by a sore throat and a runny nose, having yellow or green mucus, and a frequent nagging cough which is sometimes dry.
Eventually, your body and mind may feel run down. Sometimes, it’s difficult to differentiate symptoms of bronchitis from those of another condition.
The typical signs associated with acute bronchitis include:
- Rattling feeling in the chest
- Tender soreness in the chest and throat when coughing
- Body chills
- Fevers that come and go, usually along with chills
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis is a more severe type of bronchitis. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis can last for more than three months. Chronic bronchitis is usually easier to diagnose than acute bronchitis, due to the severity of the symptoms.
Some of the signs of bronchitis include:
- Severe chest discomfort
- Stubborn cough
- The mucus becomes yellow or green
- Inflammation of the bronchi
When to see a doctor
When the signs of bronchitis become severe, contact your doctor. Symptoms of acute bronchitis coupled with other medical conditions must be quickly reported. This is due to the contagious nature of acute bronchitis and other associated conditions, such as the flu or common cold.
Similarly, inform your doctor if the following symptoms persist:
- Lack of sleep due to frequent nagging coughs
- Coughing inhibits you from conducting your daily activities, such as going to work or school
- When you get a cough, blood or mucus comes out
- Coughing continues for up to a week. This may last up to three weeks
- You produce large amounts of mucus, usually dark in color
- Weight loss
High fevers, loss of appetite, and general achiness should be reported to your doctor.
What to expect from your doctor
When you are diagnosed with any form of bronchitis, symptoms of bronchitis will be expected, depending on the type. Acute bronchitis will be identified by shortness of breath, chest tightness and pain, and a sore throat due to constant coughing and wheezing, among other symptoms that have been mentioned above.
When an abnormally high fever is experienced, this might signal another infection such as pneumonia.
In the case of acute bronchitis, you will not be prescribed antibiotics. This is because acute bronchitis typically occurs due to a virus, and antibiotics will not be of much help. It is a form of viral bronchitis, and therefore highly contagious as compared to the other type of bronchitis like chronic bronchitis and allergic bronchitis.
The method of treatment of acute bronchitis will be focused on the relief of symptoms and preventing worsening of the condition.
Your doctor will recommend the following for the relief of symptoms:
- Consume plenty of fluids
- You can use prescription drugs for a cough. Only use a cough suppressant if your cough is dry. Coughs that produce mucus should not be suppressed, as they help remove the mucus in the bronchial tree.
- Cough medications should not be prescribed to children younger than four years or as recommended by your doctor.
- Use an inhaler if you are wheezing. Inhalers will unlock the air passages to ensure smooth breathing.
- Humidifiers will be used as an acute bronchitis treatment to moisturize the air passages. This effect will help ease any swelling.
How do you tell the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia?
Bronchitis symptoms and symptoms associated with pneumonia can sometimes be very similar. Both bronchitis and pneumonia will result in a continued cough which can last for weeks. However, the differences are significant.
In particular cases, acute bronchitis will go away without treatment. This is usually after one week. A cough, however, might persist for some weeks or even months, even though the other symptoms have gone away. When symptoms of bronchitis become severe, this might signal the presence of a new infection. At that point, it is necessary to contact your physician for further assistance to provide treatment and to prevent worsening of symptoms.
Being a viral infection, antibiotics’ effect on acute bronchitis will be insignificant. Treating acute bronchitis with antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. In the case of chronic bronchitis, which is caused by bacteria, antibiotics treatment will be effective if taken properly. Therefore, when it comes to how to treat acute bronchitis, the first thing you should do is work to prevent symptoms from getting worse.
On the other hand, pneumonia is a type of infection of the lungs. The feeling that arises from pneumonia cannot be compared with the ones of acute bronchitis. It is considered to be much worse, and can typically affect other parts of the body. Apart from coughing, pneumonia might cause other symptoms like chest pains, shortening of breath, frequent headaches, chills, feeling tired, and painful, frequent coughs, among others.
Pneumonia also occurs in different forms. A more common type is bacterial pneumonia, which occurs in adults. This kind of pneumonia is the primary cause of most pneumonia-related deaths.
Treatment of pneumonia, like treatment for bronchitis, will depend on the type. Bacterial pneumonia will be treated with antibiotics that will be prescribed by your doctor. However, before using the antibiotics, talk with your physician to fully understand how to take the medication, and to understand potential side effects and risk factors.
Other ways of relieving pneumonia symptoms will include plenty of rest, as it takes time for your body and mind to recover.
Getting the right diagnosis
Most symptoms of bronchitis and pneumonia can develop from other cold illness like flu and a common cold. To get a proper diagnosis, you must consult with your physician, as only they will be able to determine the proper course of treatment. If you start to suspect signs of bronchitis or signs of pneumonia, check with your doctor.
Can bronchitis lead to pneumonia?
Severe cases of bronchitis can result in the infection of pneumonia. When you have bronchitis, your immune system is weakened, and you become vulnerable to pneumonia.
To prevent this, try to cease contact with others while you have bronchitis, as both bronchitis and the flu can be contagious.
Home remedies to relieve bronchitis symptoms
Most people regularly ask their doctors how long bronchitis lasts. The answer is: It depends on the person and their unique case. Not all cases of bronchitis are the same.
You can quicken symptoms by utilizing a few home remedies for bronchitis.
Honey is equipped with both antiviral and antibacterial properties. This is useful in treating bronchitis as it helps soothe a sore throat. It is also used in building a healthy immune system.
How to use:
- Put a teaspoon of honey into a cup
- Proceed to add ginger paste, black pepper, and powdered clove. Eat the resulting paste to eliminate the burning sensation of the throat.
- Alternatively, add lemon drops into a cup of warm water. Add honey (one teaspoon) and stir the mixture. Drink the mixture
- Slice an onion in a plate then cover it with honey. Let it sit overnight and then remove the onion slices the following morning. Take honey (teaspoon) four times daily for relief. The onion provides a cooling and soothing effect.
Garlic contains properties which are antibiotic and antiviral in nature. It is highly recommended in treating acute bronchitis.
How to use:
- Peel fresh garlic gloves and chop them
- Add the pieces into a glass of milk
- Boil the milk and drink warm every day before you sleep.
Ginger can help build your immune system, and it also has anti-inflammatory characteristics. They assist in treating cold and inflamed bronchial tubes.
How to use:
- Using pepper, powdered cloves, and ginger, prepare a mixture. The mixture should have one teaspoon of each.
- Add the mixture to a glass of milk. Ensure that you consume the solution 3 times daily for relief.
- You can also make another mix using powdered ginger and cinnamon. Add a half teaspoon of mixture to a glass of hot water. Drink the mixture. Try the combination for some days to relieve the symptoms.
- Alternatively, prepare herbal tea for instant relief. Add a teaspoon each of powdered ginger and black pepper into a cup containing boiling water. Allow the mixture to steep for some minutes. Proceed to add honey and stir. Drink the solution twice a day.
Turmeric is a natural remedy for coughs associated with bronchitis. It has anti-inflammatory properties which extract excess mucus, providing relief. Simply add one teaspoon of powdered turmeric into a glass of milk. Proceed to stir the mixture then boil it for some time. The resulting hot mixture should be consumed twice or three times a day. To achieve objective results, always drink the mixture on an empty stomach.
This is a very effective method in relieving symptoms of bronchitis. It is used during steam therapy to soften mucus. Its antibacterial characteristics will eliminate the burning sensation and the inflamed throat. Add a little drop of the oil in boiling water. Use a cloth to cover your head in order to breathe in the steam.
Salt water will cut through the mucus which causes an irritating sensation in the bronchial membranes. Salt water will work to soothe a sore throat. Simply add salt into the warm water the stir. Use it to gargle three to four times a day. Always add the right amount of salt in water. Too much salt can also cause a sore sensation in the throat.
How can you manage chronic bronchitis?
A change in lifestyle together with natural remedies can help manage chronic bronchitis.
The following should be done:
- Don’t smoke
- Engage in light physical activities to strengthen muscles that will help you breathe
- Use pursed lipped breathing in the event of breathing difficulties
- Use humidifiers to ease coughs and loosen mucus
For bronchitis treatment to be effective, consult with your doctor regularly and ensure that your medication is taken as prescribed. Checkups with your doctor will monitor your recovery progress.
How contagious is bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is the kind of bronchitis that is most often contagious, given that it is often caused by flu and cold viruses. The viruses spread from one person to another through droplets produced whenever the infected individual coughs, sneezes or even talks. The same viruses can be spread when an uninfected individual touches something with the virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes, or nose.
However, since acute bronchitis can also be caused by reactions to certain substances, it is not always contagious. For example, someone reacting to fresh paint, pollen or smoke can’t transmit bronchitis to another person who doesn’t react to these substances.
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is rarely contagious, unless it flared up due to a virus. People with chronic bronchitis, though, are usually affected by external factors like tobacco smoke and other environmental agents and are rarely contagious.
How long is bronchitis contagious for?
This entirely depends on the individual condition, and on the virus that caused the bronchitis in the first place. Usually, bronchitis is contagious for as long as the person is showing symptoms. The bronchitis contagious period could be anywhere from three days, to weeks longer.
How long is acute bronchitis contagious after taking antibiotics?
How long acute bronchitis lasts will depend on the antibiotics used to treat bronchitis. Using antibiotics is a common way to treat bronchitis. Severe bronchitis infections may be addressed by other advanced medical procedures.
In other minor cases, the bronchitis infection may go away on its own. When antibiotics get rid of the symptoms of acute bronchitis, that stage of bronchitis is no longer contagious.