September 24, 2021
Are Sinus Infections Contagious?
Sinus infections affect tens of millions of people every year in the United States, according to the CDC. And no matter your age, you’re susceptible to developing one. The widespread nature of these infections and the frequency of their recurrence may have you wondering, “are sinus infections contagious?” The answer to that question is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. It all depends on what caused the infection.
According to Dr. Jason Varghese, “The actual sinus infection is not contagious but depending on the underlying cause, that may be contagious.”
You cannot transmit the sinus infection itself to anyone else. You can, however, transmit the underlying cause of the infection, depending on what it is. Some of the things that cause sinusitis are contagious while others are not. If you have a sinus infection and are worried you might spread illness to other people, you must visit a doctor to find out what caused your sinusitis and whether it’s contagious.
Read on to learn how to determine whether you have a sinus infection, what makes the infection contagious, how long sinus infections can last, and when you should see a doctor for treatment.
What Is a Sinus Infection?
A sinus infection, also referred to as sinusitis, is a condition that causes inflammation of the tissue lining the sinuses. When you develop this type of nasal infection, your sinuses may fill with fluid or become blocked, making it difficult to breathe through your nose.
Dr. Jason Varghese, a family medicine doctor with Healthcare Associates of Texas, describes sinus infections as, “an inflammation of the sinuses that has multiple causes.”
Sinus infections can be acute, which means they last only a few days, or they may become chronic, in which case they can last for several weeks. Acute infections are far more common than chronic sinusitis.
Dr. Varghese says the most common symptoms of sinus infections he sees are, “sinus pressure and fullness in the face that is usually tender to touch.”
It can be difficult to differentiate between a common cold, allergy symptoms, and sinusitis because each of these conditions causes similar symptoms. That said, some of the most common symptoms you may notice if you’re suffering from a sinus infection include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Post-nasal drip (mucus and fluid dripping from your nose down your throat)
- Persistent cough
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
What Causes Sinus Infections and are they contagious?
“The most common cause I see for a sinus infection is from a viral infection. Other common causes include bacterial infections and allergies” Dr. Varghese explains.
A virus, bacteria, or fungus can cause a sinus infection. Generally, acute sinus infections stem from viral colds, while chronic sinusitis typically results from a bacterial infection, nasal growths, or allergies. Sinus infections can develop from many different causes. The cause of a sinus infection can be contagious, depending on what it is.
Contagious Causes of Sinus Infections
Viral Sinus Infections
Dr. Varghese says, “If the underlying cause for the sinus infection is from a virus, it can be contagious.”
The common cold can cause the nasal passages to produce more mucus than usual. In some cases, the sinuses swell and mucus gets trapped in the cavities, creating the perfect conditions for a sinus infection to develop.
If you have a viral sinus infection, you can spread the virus that caused the infection. But that doesn’t necessarily mean other people will develop a sinus infection even if the virus causes them to get sick with a cold. Every person is different, so while you may have developed a sinus infection caused by the virus, another person may only become mildly ill.
So how long are you contagious with a viral sinus infection? When you have a virus that causes a sinus infection, you can be contagious for several days before you develop sinusitis. Most people will be contagious for approximately 10-14 days.
Non-Contagious Causes of Sinus Infections
Seasonal allergies trigger the body to release histamines, which naturally cause swelling of the nasal passages. As the inside of the nose becomes inflamed, that swelling can impede airflow and lead to nasal blockages. As a result, fluid may accumulate in the sinuses and cause an infection.
These small, noncancerous growths inside the nose can interfere with airflow through the nasal passages. If these growths interfere with proper airflow over a prolonged period or cause swelling inside the nose, a sinus infection may develop.
Tumors inside the nose.
Like nasal polyps, nasal tumors can interfere with proper airflow through the nasal passages. When this happens, swelling and fluid buildup can occur, which may cause a sinus infection.
If the wall that separates the nostrils isn’t centered inside the nose, that’s called a deviated septum. When this condition is present, one of the nasal passageways is smaller than the other, which can cause airflow problems. A very narrow nasal passage may not be able to eliminate bacteria or dry out properly, which can trigger recurring sinus infections.
Bacterial Sinus Infections
Bacterial sinus infections are not contagious. Some experts assert that bacteria can be passed between people who come into close contact with one another. However, the conditions inside a person’s nasal passages must be optimal for an infection to develop.
Are Sinus Infections Contagious Through Kissing?
“I wouldn’t recommend kissing someone when you have a sinus infection. The actual sinus infection is not contagious but the underlying cause may be contagious,” Dr. Varghese explains.
You can easily transfer the virus, bacteria, or fungi that caused your sinusitis to another person when you come into such close contact with them. Although that person may not develop a sinus infection, they can certainly become ill.
How Long Can a Sinus Infection Last if Not Treated?
If you don’t see a doctor for treatment, how long will it take a sinus infection to go away?
“Depending on which type of sinus infection you have, a sinus infection can last anywhere from 10 days to 3 months. It’s best to see a medical provider for treatment if you can.,” Dr. Varghese says.
Most acute sinus infections last about 10 days, while chronic sinusitis lasts longer than 12 weeks.
Viral sinus infections typically improve after about seven to 10 days, but mild symptoms may last longer than that. Bacterial sinusitis, on the other hand, may actually get worse after the seven-day mark and can persist without improvement for 10 days to a few weeks.
How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last Without Antibiotics?
If you have a bacterial sinus infection, you can take antibiotics to speed up your healing time. However, you cannot take antibiotics to improve viral sinusitis because antimicrobial medications do not kill viruses.
If your immune system is healthy and you choose not to take antibiotics for bacterial sinusitis, you can still fight off the infection. Most people find their symptoms improve significantly within about two to three weeks.
How to Treat a Sinus Infection
When you develop a sinus infection, you can do several things on your own to ease your symptoms. Dr. Varghese recommends, “over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, and nasal sprays. Humidifiers can also help.”
Here are some other at-home remedies and commercially available medications to help you feel better:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines. Seasonal allergy medications can help reduce sinus inflammation if you’re suffering from allergy-induced sinusitis.
- Warm compresses. Applying a warm compress to your face can help ease discomfort and open your nasal passages so you can breathe easier.
- Sinus rinses. Flushing your nose with water from a neti pot can help remove excess mucus from your sinuses, which will help you feel less congested.
When to See a Doctor for a Sinus Infection
“I recommend seeing a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within 10 days,” says Dr. Varghese.
While you can certainly treat a sinus infection at home, sinusitis that lasts longer than a couple of weeks may be the result of an underlying condition that may need medical treatment.
Contact your doctor right away if you think you have a sinus infection and develop any of the following symptoms:
- A fever higher than 102°F
- Sinus symptoms that last longer than 12 weeks
- Forehead swelling
- Redness or swelling around your eyes
- Intense headaches or facial discomfort that doesn’t go away
- A stiff neck
- Shortness of breath
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