Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

A sinus infection occurs when the tissue of the sinuses becomes swollen and inflamed. Sinuses are normally full of air; however, the sinuses can become blocked and filled with fluid, creating the perfect environment for germs such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi to grow and cause infection. A sinus infection can cause headaches and pain in part of your cheek, eyes, and upper teeth. But are sinus infections contagious?

Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Whether or not your sinus infection is contagious depends on the causes of the infection.

1.   Bacterial Sinus Infections

Bacterial sinus infections are not themselves contagious, but the infections that cause them are.

Sinusitis caused by bacteria often develops after a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as the flu or a cold. The most common bacteria that cause sinusitis are staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus pneumonia, haemophilus influenza, and moraxella catarrhalis. The Infectious Disease Society of America notes that adults and children are more prone to develop bacterial sinusitis if the symptoms of sinusitis are severe or are present for greater than ten days. Severe symptoms can include nasal discharge, a fever of 102 degrees or more, and facial pain remaining for more than 3 or 4 days.

2.   Viral Sinus Infections

The viruses of the respiratory tract that cause the flu, cold and sinusitis are spread through hand to hand contact; thus, they are highly contagious.

When you cough or blow your nose, tiny droplets fly into the air: these droplets are the major source of respiratory viruses. Whenever you come into contact with something or someone carrying a virus, then you touch your own mouth, eyes, or nose, you put yourself at risk of developing a cold infection or acute sinusitis.

3.   Other Causes

There are several other causes of sinus infections, including allergies, irritants, a deviated nasal septum, nasal tumors, and conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and cystic fibrosis. These types of sinus infections are not at all contagious.

All in all, "Are sinus infections contagious?" is a question without a simple answer—some sinus infections are indeed contagious, but not all.

How to Prevent Contagious Sinus Infections

You can take many precautions so that the spreading of sinus infections caused by respiratory viruses is reduced. Among these precautionary measures are hand hygiene, vaccination, masks, and social distancing.

  • ŸWashing your hands with water and soap or disinfection of your hands with hand sanitizer reduces your risk of contamination with respiratory viruses.
  • ŸGetting an influenza or pneumococcal vaccination will help to prevent sinusitis caused by bacterial and pneumococcal infections.
  • ŸWearing a mask on face may help to prevent spreading of sinusitis-causing viruses. You can purchase a mask at almost any pharmacy.
  • ŸIf you or your child suffers from a sinus infection, you should consider staying away from going to work or school.

What If I Already Had a Contagious Sinus Infection?

Now that the question "are sinus infections contagious?" has been addressed, you may be wondering how to treat a contagious sinus infection.

If your sinus infection is viral, you do not have to treat it medically. Once the virus has run its course, the condition will resolve on its own. Nevertheless, there are several self-care measures that you can take in order to ease your symptoms and minimize your discomfort. These include:

  • Get plenty of rest. This will help your body fight against any invaders.
  • ŸDrink lots of fluids. This will help you relieve headaches and promote drainage in your sinus cavities.
  • ŸBreathe in hot steam or hold a towel that you've soaked in warm water up to your face. Either option will help to open up your clogged sinuses and relieve sinus pressure and headaches. Even taking a hot shower will help you loosen mucus. A cool mist vaporizer will have a similar effect.
  • ŸAvoid cigarettes and limit your exposure to other pollutants.
  • ŸStay indoors and keep yourself as warm as possible. Cold temperatures can worsen the symptoms of your sinus infection.
  • ŸUse a nasal spray or a decongestant. Both help to reduce swelling in your sinuses. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be helpful for combatting headaches and pain in the affected area.
  • ŸSuck on ice chips or lozenges to soothe your sore throat.

Your doctor will treat you with antibiotics if you have a severe bacterial sinus infection that has lasted more than ten days. In most other cases, the self-care measures listed above can help you manage the illness.

If your sinusitis symptoms worsen considerably or continue for more than a week, call your doctor and schedule a medical visit. You should also consult a doctor if you have a persistent fever, swelling around your eyes, difficulty breathing, or changes in your vision. 

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