Is a Sinus Infection Contagious?

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If you have a runny or stuffed-up nose, you may assume you have a cold — especially if it's the middle of cold and flu season.

Sinus infections, also known as sinusitis, mimic the symptoms of colds, but can a sinus infection spread as quickly as a cold?

The underlying cause of a sinus infection can vary. However, an infection commonly causes by a type of bacteria or virus.

Allergic reactions and environmental irritants are also known to be possible causes. Other contributing factors include enlarged adenoids, nasal polyps, deviated septum, changes in air pressure, and weak immune systems.

Typically, these infections do not spread from person to person. So, unlike the common cold, a sinus infection isn't contagious. However, viruses or bacteria, like flu or a cold, that cause sinus infections are contagious.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Infection?

Common symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • Cough
  • Facial pain or pressure
  • Headache
  • Postnasal drip that drains into your throat
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Chronic Pain

Symptoms of viral sinus infections usually resemble a common cold. They may include nasal congestion, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and sneezing.

Other symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, fever, facial pressure or pain in multiple areas of the face/upper jaw area, greenish/yellowish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat (postnasal drip), bad breath, and even poor sense of smell.

The symptoms of a bacterial and viral sinus infection can be quite similar. However, there are some differences.

Bacterial infections tend to cause more severe symptoms such as fever, facial pain or pressure in multiple areas of the face/upper jaw, greenish/yellowish discharge from the nose or down the back of the throat (postnasal drip), bad breath, and even poor sense of smell.

How Long Does a Sinus Infection Last?

Viral infections typically last anywhere from 7 to 10 days and may even linger for up to three weeks in some cases. However, suppose symptoms persist for more than two weeks. In that case, it is essential to seek medical attention as this could indicate a more severe infection requiring further treatment.

Bacterial infections can last 10-14 days, although the infection can sometimes linger for weeks or even months. It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms last longer than two weeks, as this can indicate a more severe infection that requires further treatment.

Acute sinus infections can last three to eight weeks, while chronic infections may last longer.

The common cold most often causes acute sinus infections. They can have symptoms like another cold condition called rhinitis, where the nasal passages become swollen. The difference between rhinitis and a sinus infection is that in the latter condition, the sinuses become swollen.

Chronic sinus infections can return repeatedly and last longer than eight weeks.

Often, they're related to allergies and asthma, not contagious infections. However, some may experience long-lasting infections that don't respond to antibiotics. In these cases, you may need CT scans or examinations of their sinuses using tiny cameras. Both tests can help doctors determine the cause of patients' sinus infections.

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How Can I Prevent Sinus Infections?

It's not clear exactly how to prevent sinus infections. However, you can take these steps to prevent allergy attacks, airborne diseases and other underlying causes:

  • Avoid allergy attack triggers, such as mold or pollen.
  • Clear your nose with allergy medicines or a saltwater rinse.
  • Talk to your provider about lifestyle changes, including diet, water, exercise and stress relief.
  • Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.

How Can I Treat a Sinus Infection at Home?

Antibiotics are only recommended for those who show signs and symptoms of bacterial sinus infections. Antibiotics should not be used to treat sinus infections caused by viruses, as they are ineffective and can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Natural treatments, such as nasal irrigation, steam inhalation and rest, can help relieve the symptoms. If antibiotics are necessary, narrow-spectrum antibiotics are suggested over broad-spectrum antibiotics whenever possible.

In addition to antibiotics, you can treat yourself at home by taking the following steps:

  • Rinse your nose with a warm saline solution using a neti pot or other sinus rinse bottle.
  • Breathe hot steam through your nose for 10 to 15 minutes up to three or four times per day. You can do this in a shower, sauna, or by heating water in a pot.
  • Use over-the-counter allergy treatments if your sinus infection is allergy-related.
  • Use decongestants to help reduce inflammation in your sinuses and nasal passages. This can help relieve stuffiness. Decongestant sprays can sometimes cause rebound swelling and stuffiness after three days.

Options of Care at CHRISTUS Health

Sinus infections aren't usually dangerous, but they can keep you in bed and out of work for days or weeks. Whether you suffer from occasional or chronic sinus infections, our primary care physicians can help.

Contact us today to find a location near you to get the experienced help you need.

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