Is a sinus infection contagious?
A simple and plain answer to this question is both “YES” and “NO”.
Infectious status of sinusitis depends on its causes. A few types of sinusitis may spread from person to person.
It isn’t a highly contagious disease.
It is worth having a detailed understanding of sinus infections to understand the infectious possibilities of this disease.
Common Symptoms Of Sinusitis
“Sinusitis, also known as a sinus infection or rhinosinusitis, is inflammation of the sinuses resulting in symptoms (1).”
Acute sinus infection is a very irritating health issue. Thankfully, the acute sinusitis does not last for more than a day or two.
- Pain in the sinuses
- Pain between the eyes and sides of the nose
- Runny or plugged nose
- Thick, yellow, green, or dark gray nasal discharge
- Poor sense of smell
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Most of these common symptoms could be experienced by a patient. It may take up to 7 days for the symptoms to fully subside.
Sinusitis caused by bacterial infection is acute and lasts longer.
However, patients suffering from chronic sinusitis might experience recurring attacks of the disease several times in a year.
In the case of chronic sinusitis, a few of the symptoms may last for months.
Causes of Sinus Infection
Sinus occurs because of infection in the sinuses.
Usually, mucus or fluid trapped in sinuses provides a conducive condition for the growth of germs which result in infection.
Common causes of sinus infections are:
- Nasal tumor
- Nasal polyps
- Deformed or deviated septum
Chronic sinusitis is usually caused by polyps, deviated septum or allergies.
Sinusitis may also happen because of dry air, tobacco smoking or regular breathing of polluted air.
Are Sinus Infections Contagious?
Sinusitis caused by a virus is highly contagious as viruses can easily transfer from one person to other through air, water or touch.
Viruses that cause flu or cold are highly contagious and have potential effect in causing a sinus infection.
However, persons with a healthy immune system can resist the potentially harmful viruses that may cause flu, cold or sinus.
Sinus caused by bacteria or fungi is not contagious. Rarely do people get flu or sinus because of bacteria or fungal attacks.
Over 90% of incidences of flu or cold happen because of viral infection.
Viral infections that cause cold or flu are contagious.
A person who suffers from recurring cold and flu is highly susceptible to develop sinusitis problem. The sinus problem caused by a virus is contagious.
However, spreading the virus to another person doesn’t guarantee that person will get a sinus infection. The transferred virus may cause cold, flu or sinus in another person.
Sinus virus spreads when the infected person coughs or sneezes in others presence.
You should be careful enough to cover your nose and mouth while you cough or sneeze to prevent the spread of the viruses in the air. If you do not have handkerchief or tissues readily available for covering your mouth and nose, it’s recommended to cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
Make sure not to spill the mucus in common rooms and places which you share with others.
The respiratory viruses that cause colds, flu, and sinusitis spread mostly via hand-to-hand contact.
If you are suffering from the flu, it is better to avoid physical contact with others. Try to wash your hands after sneezing or blowing your nose.
Sinuses filled with mucus provide an ideal environment for the fast growth and multiplication of bacteria. The sudden growth of bacteria in the sinuses gives rise to an infection that causes cold, flu or sinusitis.
Sinus caused by bacterial infection lasts for several days, and the patient might experience high fever and headache.
Flu or Sinus caused by bacterial infection is not contagious.
Four main types of bacteria that cause flu or sinus are:
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Haemophilus influenza
- Moraxella catarrhalis
Sinus caused by bacterial infection is rare. Bacteria cause less than 2 percent of sinus infections in the world.
How Is Sinusitis Spread?
Sinusitis causing virus is transferred just like viruses that cause flu or cold.
It spreads by breathing in the virus. Touching nose or mouth with hands contaminated with viruses can also cause this upper respiratory infection.
A virus infected person spreads the virus in the air through openly sneezing or coughing.
Physical contact with the patient or touching the objects touched by the patient may also result in the spread of the disease
How Long Does Sinus Infection Stay Potentially Contagious?
The virus remains active for several days till they are fully eliminated from the body through medication.
The infection is potentially contagious from few days before you got the sinus infection.
Sinus casing virus can spread for a few days; in some cases, you could pass it on for a week or more.
Treatment For Sinus
You can find several treatment solutions for getting rid of sinusitis. Some of the popular remedies are:
- Saline nasal irrigation and saline nasal sprays,
- Pain relievers,
- OTC Decongestants,
- OTC fever reducers,
- Balms, essential oils or natural home remedies for loosening the mucus,
- Bed rest.
If you have severe sinusitis, you must seek the help of an ENT specialist or physician for treatment. Commonly used prescription remedies for sinus are:
- Antibiotics (for bacterial infections only),
- Nasal antihistamine sprays,
- Nasal corticosteroids and sprays,
- Sinus surgery,
- Oral or injected corticosteroids,
When to Seek Medical Help?
Sinus infection is generally manageable at home with natural remedies or OTC medicines. However, you need to get treated by a doctor if you have severe sinus with full-blown symptoms.
You need to have a close medical examination if you have:
- Blared or double vision;
- High fever – above 102 degrees F (38.8 C.);
- Stiff neck;
- A severe headache and swollen forehead;
- Redness in around the eyes;
- Sinus symptoms that last for more than a month.
Chronic sinusitis problem needs to be regularly examined and treated by a doctor.
Prevention Of Contagious Sinusitis
The spread of viral infections like cold, flu, or sinusitis can be checked by preventing the transfer of respiratory viruses.
Here are a few tips for preventing contagious sinusitis:
- Cover your mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing with a tissue paper or handkerchief.
- Wash and disinfect your hands after touching your mouth or nose,
- When you have contagious viral infection stay away from public places, office or common rooms you share with others,
- Wear a face mask to prevent the spread of respiratory virus,
- Take pneumococcal vaccine or flu shot to avoid bacterial infection that causes sinusitis or flu,
- Try not to touch your eyes, mouth or nose,
- Stay away from persons suffering from the flu or viral sinusitis.
Prevention Of Non-Contagious Sinusitis
The number of sinusitis patients is on the rise.
Approximately, 29.4 million adults in the world are expected to be suffering from sinusitis (4).
There are several preventive measures to prevent non-contagious sinusitis and reduce the risk of sinus infections. Here are a few recommendations for staying sinusitis free:
- Keep your home and workplace clean, dry and well aired;
- Sinusitis patients should use a nebulizer, metered nasal spray, douche, neti pot, or bulb syringe to keep the nose well moistened.
- Flush your nasal passages with hypertonic saline to reduce swelling and improve mucus transport.
- Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Use a clean humidifier to moisten the air at home.
- Avoid breathing in second-hand smokes from home kitchens and exhausts emissions of vehicles.
- Flush your nasal passages to get rid of dust, mucus residues, and pollutants.
- If you are prone to nasal allergies, stay away from the allergy triggers.
- Make sure to drink a lot of fluid and use a nasal spray when you suffer from cold or flu.
- When your nose is congested with mucus, blow your nose gently, one nostril at a time.
- Use decongestants before air travel and swimming or diving in the water.
- Eat nutritious food that strengthens your immune system and respiratory health.
The Bottom Line
Are sinus infections contagious? Yes, but only the sinusitis caused by a virus is contagious, and others are not.
When the sinus causing virus is transferred from one person to another, it may not cause sinus in the second person.
The contagious virus may cause only a common cold or flu in the other person who has freshly acquired the virus from the sinusitis patient.
If you have sinusitis caused by a virus, then it is necessary to adopt precautionary steps to prevent the spread of the virus to other people.
If possible, avoid being in crowded areas to reduce the number of people that could be exposed to the virus.
The majority of the sinusitis infections are curable with OTC medicines and home remedies. However, chronic sinus issues need prolonged treatment under the guidance of a physician to get rid of the issue.