Is Bronchitis Communicable: Everything You Need to Know

Bronchitis is a condition that leads to the inflammation of the airway, specifically the bronchial tubes. It is more severe than the common cold. It can result in intense coughing that can lead to rib pain, a sore throat, yellow mucus, and other extreme cold symptoms.

Bronchitis occurs as a result of a viral or bacterial infection¹. If the physician is convinced you might have a bacterial infection, they prescribe antibiotics. However, an antibiotic prescription would be ineffective if the infection is viral.

Types of bronchitis

There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. These types of infections are also the most prevalent.

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is a short-term infection that might last as long as a few weeks. It is treatable and usually does not cause any further complications. 

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is also referred to as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This form of bronchitis keeps reappearing, as it does not completely disappear. 

According to research², COPD is most common among smokers. The ramifications of this infection are considerably much more intense and thus need medical interventions.

Is bronchitis contagious?

Acute bronchitis is contagious, but chronic bronchitis is not. The chronic cough and mucus produced due to this condition may appear like that of other respiratory infections like pneumonia, but it’s not the same. It typically lasts up to 10 days before leaving your body, but even after the initial symptoms have subsided, you might continue to cough constantly for a few weeks.

It is important to note that if the infection is viral, the contagion levels are significantly higher than in a bacterial infection. Therefore, the viral infection might retain transmissibility for a few days and possibly weeks.

Bronchitis ranges between the flu and several other respiratory conditions. Like all these infections, bronchitis can be transmitted from one person to another through the transfer of germs that contain the virus or bacteria responsible for the condition.

Physical contact is not the exclusive way you can contact the germs, but when close enough to an infected person, and they cough or emit the germs, then you have a high chance of getting it depending on whether the primary individual is taking the medication as prescribed. Therefore, it is advised to maintain good hygiene and ensure frequent handwashing or sanitization.

Factors that may influence bronchitis infections

Some of the environmental factors that contribute to the manifestation of the infection include the following:

Air pollution

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis have been observed to be prevalent in regions with higher levels of air pollution, referred to as smog. This is most prevalent in urbanized areas, where air pollution is constant due to the release of alarmingly high pollutants into the environment.

Exposure to solid chemical products

The inhalation of various chemical products from asbestos results in significant irritation of the lungs and the entire respiratory system. When this persists for long periods, bronchitis is inevitable.

Smoking

Smoking can affect both active and passive smokers. Active smokers risk contracting chronic bronchitis, while passive smokers have the risk of acquiring acute bronchitis.

Poor hygiene

Acute bronchitis is among the forms of infection that are affected by poor hygiene due to the exposure to the germs within which the virus or bacteria are embedded.

Symptoms of bronchitis

In most cases, you might find it challenging to outline the difference between bronchitis and other respiratory infections. However, there are several bronchitis symptoms that you can use to identify and single out the differences.

Here are some common symptoms of bronchitis:

  • Consistent cough

  • Presence of discolored sputum in the cough³ (white, yellowish, greenish-yellow)

  • Discomfort in chest region (rattling feeling)

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath after small tasks

  • Wheezing⁴ during breathing

  • Feverish and frequent chills even though the surrounding is not cold

  • Soreness and tenderness in the chest often experienced during a cough

How is bronchitis treated?

The standard treatment for bronchitis⁵ infections are rest, keeping hydrated, and intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ⁶(NSAIDs). Paracetamol and ibuprofen⁷ are also used to treat the symptoms at home. However, if you also have asthma, avoid ibuprofen⁸. 

Acute bronchitis eventually goes away on its own. However, it is advisable to seek medical attention if you have been experiencing a cough for longer than three weeks. This is because it could indicate the formulation of chronic bronchitis. 

It is also important to note that the mucus discharge released during the cough could be discolored, thus requiring a consistent medical checkup for respiratory issues.

How you can avoid bronchitis

Prevention is better than cure. Here are some ways to avoid contracting bronchitis:

  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke

  • Wash hands frequently

  • Get recommended vaccines such as the flu vaccine⁹

  • Avoid chemical products that irritate your respiratory system (nose, trachea, lungs)

  • Avoid particles that result in irritation, such as dust

The lowdown

Bronchitis is a condition that results due to an inflammation of the airway, more specifically the bronchial tubes. There are two types: chronic and acute.

Certain environmental factors like air pollution may subject you to the risk of contracting chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis, on the other hand, might be due to poor hygiene. While acute bronchitis can be contagious because of viral or bacterial infection, chronic bronchitis is non-communicable since it results from airway irritation. 

Bronchitis should self-resolve and heal over time. However, causative agents are increasing with time as more forms of pollution are administered into the environment. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure you take your annual flu shot and observe preventive measures to avoid contracting bronchitis. 

If you have already been experiencing the symptoms mentioned in this article, seek medical assistance.

Sources:
  1. Acute bronchitis (2022)

  2. Smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Parallel epidemics of the 21st century (2009)

  3. Sputum colour for diagnosis of a bacterial infection in patients with acute cough (2009)

  4. Acute bronchitis (1998)

  5. Chest cold (acute bronchitis) | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  6. Effectiveness of anti-inflammatory treatment versus antibiotic therapy and placebo for patients with non-complicated acute bronchitis with purulent sputum. The BAAP Study protocol (2011)

  7. Bronchitis (acute) | Nidirect

  8. Risk of asthma exacerbation associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in childhood asthma (2016)

  9. Seasonal flu vaccines | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Other sources:

Dr. Chuck Yong Kong is a general medical practitioner. He graduated from Monash University, Australia, in 2006. He has been a teaching associate with Monash for 15 years, working on the medical school’s course development, running tutorials and exams. His areas of interest include addiction medicine, occupational health, medical management, and health economics.

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