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Is Bronchitis Contagious? 7 Top Ways to Avoid Spreading It

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Bronchitis can make life miserable. The nagging cough, shortness of breath and sore chest can linger for weeks. But what exactly is bronchitis and is it contagious?

Bronchitis occurs when the airways leading to your lungs get inflamed and fill with mucus. Bronchitis can impact you suddenly, known as acute, lasting five days to three weeks. It can also be recurring, also known as chronic, with a cough lasting for three months or longer.

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by an upper respiratory virus, such as the common cold, and goes away on its own. Chronic bronchitis never really goes away but can be managed.

In both cases, the infection typically begins in the nose, the sinuses, or the throat and spreads to the bronchial tubes.

Is bronchitis contagious?

The short answer is yes. How long you are contagious can vary depending on the type of infection, how severe symptoms are and your overall health. When it comes to bronchitis or severe chest colds, people are the most contagious for the first two to three days of the infection. Bronchitis itself isn’t contagious, but the viruses and bacteria that cause it are. Excessive coughing is one of the main ways the germs that cause bronchitis travel from one person to another.

When someone with bronchitis coughs, sneezes, or even talks, droplets of saliva or mucus containing the virus can fly through the air. This is why it’s important for someone who has bronchitis to always cover their mouth when they cough or use a tissue to cough into. It’s also crucial to wash your hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing. The viruses and bacteria that cause bronchitis can also be spread through physical contact. For instance, if an infected person touches an object, like a light switch or an office coffee pot, and then an uninfected person touches those objects then their nose or mouth, the virus can spread.

Anyone can get bronchitis, but you’re at higher risk if you:

  • Smoke or are around someone who does
  • Have asthma or other breathing conditions such as COPD
  • Have acid reflux
  • Have an autoimmune disorder or other illness that causes inflammation
  • Are around air pollutants

Symptoms of bronchitis can vary from person to person, but the Centers for Disease Control says these symptoms are most common:

  • Sore throat
  • Mild body aches
  • Chest soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Persistent cough with or without mucus for more than five days

How can I avoid spreading bronchitis?

There’s no way to eliminate your risk of developing bronchitis, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting it and spreading it.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you’re not able to use soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of developing bronchitis.
  • Use a humidifier. Moist air is less likely to irritate your lungs and airways.
  • Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu and pneumonia shot.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Keep your immune system strong by getting plenty of sleep, exercising and eating a healthy diet.
  • Keep surfaces clean. Viruses can live on most surfaces for up to 48 hours. To prevent spreading germs, regularly wipe down commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs and refrigerator handles. This is especially important if someone in your family has bronchitis, a cold, or the flu.

How can I feel better?

Most people get over bronchitis in about two weeks, but it might take as long as three to six weeks.

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Use a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
  • Use saline nasal spray to relieve a stuffy nose
  • Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
  • Use honey, throat lozenges, hot teas and over-the-counter cough medications to relieve coughing in adults. If you have high blood pressure, it's advised to use Coricidin HBP. If you are unsure if you can use a certain over the counter medication, please contact your doctor.

Sometimes, it can be tough to determine whether you have bronchitis or something more serious. See your doctor if your cough lasts more than three weeks or if it’s a cough that produces blood, if you are wheezing, or if you have a fever greater than 100.4 degrees.

Bronchitis usually gets better on its own without antibiotics. The CDC says that over-the- counter medications can help, but you should consult your doctor or pharmacist to see what is recommended for your symptoms. It is also important to note that antibiotics do not typically help treat bronchitis.

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