Can you catch bronchitis from someone who has it?
Before we find out whether bronchitis is contagious or not, let us first learn what bronchitis is and what causes it.
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the cells that line the bronchial airways. This could be as a result of an infection (bacterial or viral in origin), inhalation of certain irritating smoke particles, dust or any other substance that may irritate the lining of the bronchial airways. Males are more commonly affected than females.
Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis tends to be more common among the children below 5 years of age and chronic bronchitis is common among elderly males above the age of 50 years.
Acute bronchitis and its causes
Acute bronchitis is a very common condition and is known to be one of the top 5 conditions that people commonly get treated for. A viral infection usually precedes acute bronchitis in most cases. Therefore acute bronchitis can be caused by either a viral or bacterial organisms. The most common pathogen is the virus including the Influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenxa virus, adenovirus and rhinovirus.
The bacteria that may cause acute bronchitis include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza, Mycoplasma and Moraxella cattarhalis.
Chronic bronchitis and its causes
Chronic bronchitis is the presence of a chronic cough and production of sputum for at least more than 3 months in at least 2 consecutive years. Chronic bronchitis is very well known to be one of the pathological conditions that is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It is a known fact that chronic bronchitis is more common among the habitual smokers. Whys is this? This is because habitual smokers continuously expose their bronchial airways to irritants such as tobacco smoke and the dust from silica and grain. This leads to an inflammation of bronchial lining. Within the lining of the bronchial airways are glands that secrete mucous. When there is an inflammation, these glands also increase in their size and number, therefore the amount of mucous secreted also increases as a result. The hypersecretion of the mucous is further aggravated with proteases, which are a type of inflammatory enzymes and hence leads to the accumulation of mucus within the airways and narrowing of the bronchial airways.
Not only that, the ongoing inflammation will further cause scarring and fibrosis of the airways which also contribute to the narrowing of the airways hence limit the airflow.
The commonest cause for chronic bronchitis is smoking. Nearly 85% to 90% of the patients who are habitual smokers develop chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at one point of their life. Chronic bronchitis can also be caused by repeated exposure to dust and other irritants within the work place or in the surrounding environment.
Who is at risk of developing bronchitis?
- Chronic smokers
- People with chronic conditions such as carcinoma.
- Those who are repeatedly exposed to irritants.
- Those suffering from repeated episodes of gastric reflux.
What are the signs and symptoms of bronchitis?
Bronchitis should be suspected in any person with the following signs and symptoms:
- Cough, particularly if it has been persisting for 5 or more days. In acute bronchitis, the cough can go up to 1 to 3 weeks but in chronic bronchitis the cough may persist up to more than 3 months and experience similar episodes every year.
- Sputum production
- Low grade fever associated with chills
- Muscle aches and pains
- Body weakness
- Runny nose
On physical exam, the following signs may be noted by the doctor which will give a clue about bronchitis.
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Use of accessory muscles during breathing
- Wheezes diffusely heard over the chest on auscultation
Is viral or bacterial bronchitis contagious?
Since acute bronchitis is caused by viruses and bacteria and as they are contagious, bronchitis is too. However, chronic bronchitis is not contagious yet it is a serious health problem which needs a doctor’s care.
Bronchitis can spread from one person to another, just the way a common cold spreads. The virus can spread either by breathing it in or through your hands to the mouth, nose or eyes. If the infected person coughs or sneezes, then the viruses will be released to the air and if you breathe in this air, you have a chance of developing the infection.
When will you know if you caught it? Since the initial signs and symptoms of bronchitis is similar to that of a common cold, it is really hard to say whether you just got the cold or bronchitis. However, if the symptoms seem to continue beyond a week or so, even after the other symptoms are gone, it is likely that you may be suffering from bronchitis.
How long will you be contagious once you catch it?
The answer to this question will depend on the type of virus that is responsible for your bronchitis. However, in general, you will be more contagious for a few days to a week.
How can you prevent bronchitis?
Bronchitis is preventable. So here are some tips that you can follow to reduce the risk of developing bronchitis.
- Wash your hands properly and regularly – Your hands are one of the most common ways in which infections can be transmitted. Therefore keeping your hands clean all the time is a simple way that you can avoid catching diseases.
- Stop smoking – Cigarette smoking is the major culprit for bronchitis. So stop smoking and reduce the chance of developing bronchitis.
- Get your flu shot every year – The flu is another thing that can cause bronchitis. Therefore taking the flu shot every year is a smart choice.
- Wear a mask – Especially if you are around someone with the cold or acute bronchitis.
- Healthy diet – This will provide the adequate amount of vitamins and nutrients you need to improve the functions of the immune system.
- Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose – These are a few places that viruses love as they are moist and is a perfect place to facilitate their growth.