Understanding Sinusitis: Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

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Anyone can catch an infectious rhinovirus; however, infants and people who live in crowded conditions are at higher risk of getting the virus than others. How are sinus infections contagious? Approximately 80% of people who have contracted an infectious rhinovirus will get a second one within two months.

Sinusitis is an inflammation of one or more sinuses. The most common cause of sinusitis is an infection that spreads through direct contact with another person’s nasal mucus, saliva, or other secretions from the infected person. If you have a fever and your sinuses are congested, it is possible that you also have a secondary bacterial infection. Rhinovirus is the most common cause of sinusitis in children and adults.

Sinusitis caused by rhinoviruses usually resolves without antibiotics within two to three weeks of onset. However, some people may continue to have symptoms for extended periods after the initial infection.

In addition, infectious rhinoviruses can be passed from person to person through direct physical contact with nasal secretions such as mucus or sneezing, similar to the common cold.

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Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

The best way to avoid the spread of infectious sinusitis is by staying away from people who have it.

If you suspect that you or someone in your family might have an infection, then it is important to stay home and keep a close eye on your symptoms. Not only will this help reduce the risk of spreading disease, but it can also provide peace of mind and allow your health team to focus more on you.

If you need to see a healthcare provider for treatment, be sure to do so as soon as possible so your doctor can identify the cause and start treatment.

Why Do Sinus Infections Occur?

An infection causes sinusitis. There must be a bacterial or viral infection for sinusitis to occur. The most common type of sinusitis in adults is rhinovirus sinusitis, which generally occurs after a viral respiratory illness such as the cold or flu.

When you have the virus, your body tries to fight it off with its immune system. As you fight the infection, you’ll produce more mucus. This increase in mucus can block your nose and lead to a buildup of pressure inside your head.

With too much pressure inside your head, fluid builds up and flows into your nose. This buildup of fluid leads to symptoms like headaches and earaches.

What Happens in Your Body During a Sinus Infection?

Infectious rhinoviruses travel to your sinus cavity, where they cause inflammation and fluid retention. In addition, the infection causes mucous to build up in your sinuses and throat, making it difficult for air to get into you.

When the pressure gets too high in the sinus cavities, you feel a headache that radiates from your forehead back through the top of your head. You then develop a fever as part of the immune response. Your fever may last for two to three days and range from 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit (38-39 degrees Celsius). As the infection progresses, you experience sneezing, coughing, and pain at the site of an infected tooth or cheekbone. You might also have swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

How long are you contagious when you have a sinus infection?

You can be contagious for approximately a week after the symptoms begin. You typically are not infectious during the first day or two after your symptoms start. You should avoid close contact with other people during that time and wash your hands often to prevent any new infections.

are sinus infections contagious

Contagious Causes of Sinus Infections

A viral infection is an infection caused by a virus. Viruses are single-celled organisms that can only reproduce by entering the cells of other living organisms, often through the skin or the soft membranes covering bodily organs.

Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria and affect the body’s natural defenses against bacterial invaders. If you have symptoms of a sinus infection, you must see a doctor before self-treating with over-the-counter medication.

If you do not see improvement after taking antibiotics for a week, contact your doctor to determine if you may need a prescription antibiotic.

Non-Contagious Causes of Sinus Infections

Non-contagious causes of sinus infections include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Foreign substances such as dust or pollen
  • Other diseases, like cancer or cystic fibrosis

Sinusitis caused by non-contagious causes will not spread to other people. However, if you have a non-contagious cause of sinusitis, you must consult your doctor and be examined by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

How long are sinus infections contagious?

Sinusitis is contagious for about 48 hours after the symptoms start and about two weeks after the symptoms resolve. However, it can take up to three months for a person to be re-infected.

The most common cause of sinusitis is an infection that spreads through direct contact with another person’s nasal mucus, saliva, or other secretions from the infected person. If you have a fever and your sinuses are congested, you may also have a secondary bacterial infection.

Can you pass a sinus infection to someone?

Yes, you can pass on the infection to someone else. If you have an infectious rhinovirus, it is vital to stay home from work or school and keep your child from going to daycare until the symptoms are gone.

In addition, you need to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. You should visit a healthcare provider for an antibiotic prescription when you have a sinus infection that doesn’t improve with over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Sometimes, you may need nasal sprays containing steroids to help clear the infection.

Doctors prescribe antibiotics if you have sinusitis caused by a secondary bacterial infection. However, it is only possible to determine what kind of bacteria is causing your secondary infection by having it diagnosed by a doctor first.

Should I stay home with a sinus infection?

It is important to stay home from work when you have a cold, particularly if you are experiencing sinus infection symptoms such as congestion or pressure in your head. If you are at work, try finding someone else to cover for you. If you are having difficulty breathing or there is a lot of pain in your chest, it is recommended that a doctor see you. If your symptoms are severe, you will require an antibiotic prescription to help manage the infection.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The most accurate way to tell whether a sinus infection is viral or bacterial is to see a doctor. Viruses and bacteria can cause sinus infections, so the presence of one or both does not indicate the cause is either one in particular. However, you may use medications such as pain relievers, aspirin, and decongestants to treat a sinus infection caused by either virus or bacteria alone or in combination with the other. If you have a fever and your sinuses are congested, you may also have a secondary bacterial infection.

The most common secondary bacterial sinus infection in children is acute otitis media (AOM), also known as swimmer’s ear. A sinus infection caused by a virus typically lasts two to three weeks. If you have been experiencing symptoms for more than three weeks and your doctor has not found an underlying cause, you likely have a secondary bacterial infection.

Ear infections are more common among children under five years of age who also have allergies. By observing any signs of middle ear fluid, your doctor can decide the best treatment option for AOM and viral sinusitis in your child.

There are several stages to a sinus infection.

First, mucous congestion can occur if the mucous membranes in your nose or sinuses are irritated and swollen. This can lead to headaches, nasal congestion, and a stuffy nose.

Another stage is the development of an infection as bacteria or fungi make their way into your sinuses. This is also called a secondary infection. As it grows, it can cause inflammation and pain in your face and behind your eyes.

Finally, the infection will begin to clear up as your body staves off the infection and starts to heal.

However, even if you take antibiotics for a sinus infection, it may come back in another part of your body, such as your lungs or bones. If you have frequent sinus infections that don’t go away, you should seek medical attention from a practicing doctor who can diagnose and treat the problem appropriately.

Common sinusitis is not contagious. Bacterial sinus infections are not transmitted through the air or touch, so sharing things such as glasses and napkins does not spread the condition. Also, the nasal fluid and tissue (mucous) that drains from a blocked sinus cavity can transmit bacteria into another person’s nasal cavity.

Still, you can prevent this by using a tissue, nasal decongestant, or a prescribed nasal spray. If you have a fever and your sinuses are congested, you may also have a secondary bacterial infection.

You can almost always treat this with oral antibiotics. These will help to treat the symptoms of your primary condition, including pain, blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and cloudy or runny eyes. Antibiotics (such as injections into a painful site in the back of the nose) may also be effective for resolving secondary bacterial infections.

There are many reasons why kissing your boyfriend with a sinus infection is not advisable. Consider that:

  • It may trigger a dangerous secondary bacterial or fungal infection.
  • It can make the existing sinusitis worse.
  • It can cause viral sinus infections to spread.
  • It can increase the risk of developing gonorrhea or chlamydia.
  • It can cause your eyes to swell shut.

It takes more effort to kiss than it would shake hands, and shaking hands may cause tension in the neck and facial muscles, which can also worsen sinus pain.

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis include severe pain, pressure, and tightness in one or both of your cheeks behind your nose. You may also have a runny nose that doesn’t stop dripping. The pain and pressure in your face can get so bad that it feels like you are about to rip your face off. Your tender face tissue can turn red and scab over. Your eyes may water and have a dark, crusty feeling on the outer corners. Sinusitis may also increase your risk of nasal polyps or a sore throat.

In addition, unresolved sinusitis can be an indication of a deviated septum.

When To See A Doctor

You may also have trouble breathing through your nose or feel like you are suffocating. It is usual for you to feel like this because sinusitis can feel so awful! If you have it and it gets worse or doesn’t improve with time, it is best to see your doctor.

They can do a nasal exam and possibly take X-rays to ensure that nothing more serious is happening inside your head (meningitis). They can give you medicine to ensure the pain and pressure in your face stops hurting or recommend sinus surgery.

If they see that the infection has not gone away after a few weeks, they may prescribe antibiotics (such as amoxicillin). Sometimes they will also want you to keep up with a treatment program that includes frequent visits to the doctor’s office or an office visit every week or two weeks for follow-up care.

If the infection gets better on its own, then no follow-up care is needed.

The content on Doctor Alexa’s blog is reviewed by Advanced practice registered nurses or pharmacist and is intended for educational purposes only. This information should not be relied upon as professional medical counsel. Be sure to always consult with your physician about the dangers and benefits of any medication, treatment or procedure.

You shouldn’t wait to see the doctor for simple health needs.