Bronchitis is caused by inflammation and swelling in the airways inside the lungs, which are called bronchi. Because these airway tubes carry oxygen to the lungs, the swelling associated with bronchitis can make it difficult to breath. Bronchitis can be caused by a variety of things, and some wonder "Is bronchitis contagious?"
Most people who have bronchitis also have a cough that may bring up mucus. Many people assume that bronchitis is not contagious, but that is not always true, because not all bronchitis has the same cause.
Acute bronchitis is the name given to bronchitis that comes on quickly and usually lasts for a relatively short time. This type of bronchitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection, such as the cold or flu virus. Other causes include bacterial infection such as Pneumococcus or exposure to chemicals that irritate the lining of the bronchi.
Acute bronchitis is contagious if it is caused by either a virus or bacteria. These germs may be present in mucus that can be spread through coughing or sneezing.
Special care should be taken to avoid spreading the condition, including covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and washing hands frequently or using hand sanitizers. Getting a flu shot may reduce your risk of bronchitis caused by the flu.
Chronic bronchitis, which is a long-term condition, is usually caused by repeated exposure to something that irritates the lining of the airways. Smoking is the primary cause of chronic bronchitis.
Other common causes include air pollution, dust, or fumes from a work environment. Because chronic bronchitis is caused by long-term irritation in the lungs, it is not contagious and cannot be spread to other people.
However, just because someone has been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis does not mean he or she can never be contagious. People with chronic bronchitis can also catch acute bronchitis.
So if coughing or difficulty breathing seems worse than that normally caused by chronic bronchitis, be cautious in case a contagious variety of bronchitis is also present.
eMedicine Health. John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP.