Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 28, 2023
3 min read

Bronchitis makes you cough -- a lot. It can make it hard to breathe, too, and can cause wheezing, fever, tiredness, and chest pain. The disease happens when the lining of the airways in your lungs gets irritated and inflamed.

It can be. There are two kinds of bronchitis:

  • Chronic, which isn't contagious but means your airways are inflamed for a long time with symptoms that last at least 3 months and recurring over 2 years. Chronic bronchitis is a serious lung disease that is one type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • Acute, which can last for 1 to 3 weeks. It’s usually caused by cold or flu viruses. Since these viruses are contagious, acute bronchitis usually is, too.

The first few days you’re sick, it will probably be hard to tell if you have a “regular” cold or bronchitis. But if you keep coughing for a week or longer, even after your other symptoms are gone, you might have bronchitis.

It depends on the type of virus that you have. In most cases, you’ll be contagious for a few days, and possibly as long as a week. Since you may not know what kind of illness you have -- and doctors don’t test for individual viruses, since there are hundreds of them -- it’s best to assume you could spread the disease while you have cold symptoms.

You get acute bronchitis the same way you get cold and flu viruses: by getting a virus inside your body, usually by breathing it in or passing it from your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes. Viruses get into the air and onto surfaces after someone who is sick coughs, blows their nose, sneezes, or sometimes even just breathes.

To keep from getting bronchitis, try not to be in close contact with people who have cold or flu-like symptoms. Wash your hands regularly, and don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or nose.

COVID-19 and the flu can cause bronchitis. That’s why it’s smart to stay up to date on your COVID-19 and flu shots every year.

If you have bronchitis, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough, and wash your hands often to avoid getting someone else sick. Follow the CDC's isolation recommendations if you have COVID-19.

Make an appointment if:

  • Your cough does not improve after 10 days.
  • You’re really uncomfortable or are coughing so hard that you can’t sleep.
  • You have chest pain with coughing or difficulty breathing. 
  • Your cough is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
  • You have a fever over 100.4 F.
  • You’re wheezing or feel like you can’t breathe.
  • There’s blood in the mucus you cough up, or you have other symptoms that seem unusual for a cold.
  • You get frequent bouts of bronchitis.

Call 911 for any chest pain or difficulty breathing.