Q: Is bronchitis caused by a virus?
A: Bronchitis may be caused by a virus, like the cold virus. Different viral strains, such as influenza A or B, adenovirus, rhinovirus and parainfluenza virus, may lead to this illness. Viral bronchitis is contagious, as the harmful agents can actually spread through droplets in the air, which are expelled when the infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.
Nevertheless, viruses are not the only potential cause of this disease. Bacteria, exposure to environmental irritants like smoke, dust or fumes, and even diseases like asthma or emphysema may also lead to this illness. Allergies can cause bronchitis as well, and those with severe allergies may have a higher risk of respiratory infections.1
For more information on viral bronchitis, read the causes of bronchitis page.
Q: What does bronchitis feel like?
A: Bronchitis causes inflammation or swelling in the passageways of the lungs, so the most significant symptoms of this ailment are difficulty breathing and shortness of breath. It also feels as if there are large amounts of mucus or phlegm in the airways. Coughing, chest discomfort, fatigue and slight fever are other hallmark symptoms of bronchitis.
Q: Can you have bronchitis without a fever?
A: Fever and fatigue are actually two hallmark symptoms of this disease. The fever brought on by bronchitis is generally low-grade, however. If you experience high fever (higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius), chills, shoulder and chest pain and other worsened symptoms, consult a doctor — your condition may already have progressed to pneumonia.2
Q: Can you catch bronchitis from someone else?
A: Yes, bronchitis can be contagious but only if it’s caused by a virus or bacteria. These infectious organisms can spread from one person to another through droplets when a person sneezes, coughs or talks. If they touch any of your mucous membranes, such as your eyes, mouth or nose, you are at high risk of getting bronchitis.
Q: Bronchitis versus bronchiolitis: What’s the difference between these two?
A: Bronchitis and bronchiolitis are both disorders that target the respiratory system, but what distinguishes them from each other is which part of the lungs they target.
Bronchitis causes inflammation and irritation in the bronchi, or the airways or first two to three “pipes” in the lungs, found immediately after the trachea or windpipe. Meanwhile, bronchiolitis affects the bronchioles, or the much smaller air passages in the lungs. These are very small and delicate, and lead directly to the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs).3
Q: Can bronchitis kill you?
A: Experiencing a single bronchitis episode isn’t generally a cause for concern, especially if it has been given proper treatment. However, if left untreated, bronchitis may worsen and lead to pneumonia and/or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are both potentially life-threatening.4
Q: How long does it take to recover from bronchitis?
A: If given appropriate care and treatment, bronchitis recovery time may take seven to 10 days. However, some patients may experience a dry, nagging cough for one to four weeks even after the condition has cleared. For useful information on how to get rid of bronchitis, read the treatment page.