Many people every day ask themselves the question, is bronchitis contagious? Well, bronchitis is a viral disease that causes mucus to thicken the airways of the bronchial tubes. Because this disease is caused by viruses, most of the time antibiotics cannot treat the disease. The disease is classified as either acute or chronic.
The most common form is the acute form and is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold or flu. It usually lasts 7-10 days.
This form of the disease starts with a respiratory tract infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial walls. The inflammation then triggers edema of the bronchus leading to an increased production of mucus. A cough develops after the infection spreads. It usually takes a few days for the infection to clear, but because of the damage to the bronchial walls, the cough can persist.
The chronic form is a more serious form of the disease. With this form, the bronchial tubes are continuously inflamed and irritated. Common causes of the chronic form are smoking and other pollutants.
This form of the disease is caused by persistent and long-term damage to the bronchial walls. The walls undergo structural changes due to the exposure of inflammation to the airways. These structural changes lead to an increase production in mucus creating a chronic issue.
Symptoms are the same for both acute and chronic. Usually, the person will have a cough which includes sputum. A person may also experience fever, chills, fatigue, mild headache, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort.
The diseases themselves may resolve in a week or so, but a cough may linger for several weeks. The chronic form is defined as having a cough with sputum production for at least a three month period for two consecutive years.
This disease can be difficult to distinguish from other viruses and may not be caught in the early stages. During the examination, the doctor will ask for a medical history and any potential exposures such as dust or fumes. The doctor may request a sputum test, chest x-rays, pulmonary test, and blood test.
The acute form of the disease usually clears up without any assistance from medications. However, to ease discomfort an over the counter cough suppressant can help with the coughing along with taking a pain or fever reducer. It is also important to get plenty of rests and fluids to help the body recover.
The chronic form of the disease does not have a cure. The provider will treat the patient more aggressively. Cough medicine can help relieve the coughing, but it is important not to suppress a cough completely. Coughing helps remove the mucus from the lungs. Bronchodilators are used to open the bronchial tubes and help remove mucus. Also, the provider often prescribes a mucolytic which helps eliminate the sputum. If the cause is suspected to be bacterial and not viral, then an antibiotic can be prescribed. Anti-inflammatory medicines along with steroids help reduce inflammation and tissue damage. Patients with difficulty breathing may benefit from oxygen therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation to help with the breathing problems.
This disease is not completely preventable, but precautions can be taken to help reduce the risk of developing the disease. Washing hands, getting the annual flu and pneumonia vaccination can help reduce a person’s risk. The number one cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. It is best to quit smoking and avoid exposure to smoke and other toxic pollutants as much as possible.