When we come across anyone having sinus symptoms, suddenly what pops up in mind is, what if I catch it? Whether it is your family or a dear friend, we are all worried about contracting sinusitis from someone with the symptoms. We keep a distance, I am not sure about everyone, but I do. After all, who would be fond of sneezing, coughing, and wheezing all the time!

Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

But, are you sure that sinus infections are contagious? It need not be a sinus infection when you have a runny nose, nasal congestion, and headache. It can be signaling a common cold too. You cannot just define someone with sinus symptoms to be carrying a contagious infection. Whether a sinus infection is contagious or not is all dependent on the root cause. Before diving deep into all that, let us have some insights on sinus infections.

sinus infection

When you feel it hard to breathe, stress out with a constant cough, and nasal discharge, you might even feel like passing it to someone in the rarest of the moments! Could you pass your sinus infection to someone? Maybe you can, at times, depending on one thing- the cause! If you have a reoccurring sinus infection, they can be contagious for what causes it. Chronic sinusitis or chronic rhinosinusitis can keep your nasal passage swollen and inflamed for about three months! It can persist even after trying to treat the condition with medications or other modes of treatment. There can be several causes for different kinds of sinus infections in people. Some of them can be contagious too, depending on the cause. Let us look into the major causes of sinus infections and the odds of contagiousness.

What Causes Sinus Infections?

  • Viruses: These tinier, organic, infectious agents trigger sinus infections most of the time. They pass from one person to another, not of many surprises, a viral sinus infection too. You don’t need to have the same symptoms as the person you contracted the infection from. A common cold due to viral infection can even lead to a sinus infection. Though it is unsure whether the viruses may stay for days or weeks in your body, you might pass it to someone even before showing any symptoms in yourself or falling sick.
  • Bacteria: Mucus buildup and sinus blockage can lead to the development of bacterial infection. Even though bacterial infections can be prolonged, they might not spread from people to people. It is difficult to find whether a sinus infection is caused by virus or bacteria. As per the Infectious Diseases Society of America, a bacterial infection may show the following symptoms when compared to a viral infection:
  • Prolonged but not improving symptoms, that can go up 10 days to more
  • Severe symptoms like a high fever, facial pain, and nasal discharge
  • Symptoms that get worse after an infection in the upper respiratory tract, which may last for five to six days
  • Other causes: People with other kinds of allergies, a deviated septum or polyps may also have sinus infections that are not contagious.

Worried about how it spreads, and how can you escape from getting infected? It is the same as how you get cold and flu from someone. You can get it by breathing in or by touching things touched by someone with a viral infection. These viruses can stay in the air for sometime when a sick person sneezes or coughs. Giving handshakes to a sick one may also cause you to pass the virus. To prevent it from spreading, consult a doctor when you notice the symptoms of a sinus infection. You may experience some of the common symptoms including, runny nose, cough, headache, postnasal drip, fever, pressure or pain in the sinuses, or a sore throat. You should consult an ENT specialist if you have any or some of the symptoms.

Preventing the Spread

Whether it is sinusitis or any other infection, the first thing to do is to keep a check on your hygiene practices. Following good hygiene is the best practice to prevent viral infections and transmission. Regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face often. Keep a healthy distance from people who show symptoms like sneezing and coughing. If you are infected, stop the spread by covering your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing.

Factors that can put you under the risk for sinus infection

There can be several factors that might trigger a sinus infection. One of the few is a person-to-person transmission. There can be other factors that you might go unnoticed in your daily life. If you are a person who swims in the public pools or ponds can be at the risk of infection. Polluted water in such sources might expose the sinuses to bacteria. Smoking or second-hand smoking can also put you under the risk of a sinus infection! If you have nasal polyps or a deviated septum, you are more prone to develop a sinus infection. Not to emphasize this much, as we knew that people with a lower immune system are susceptible to infections, including sinusitis. No wonder how children are on the list of highly susceptible groups for sinus infections! They usually understand less about hygiene and self-care while at school.

Knowing the depth of your infection

The depth of your infection is mostly linked to the length of the symptoms it shows. If the symptoms are temporary that last for 7 to 10 days, you might be having acute sinusitis. If it is bacterial, it can last longer than usual. Acute sinusitis may develop from a cold. Long term symptoms that might last from 12 or more weeks, you might be having chronic sinusitis, which can reoccur anytime.

When should you visit the doctor?

You might notice the need for a consultation only when the symptoms get worse. It is quite common that people get confused between a common cold and a sinus infection. However, there can be situations when you should seek immediate medical care. Unfamiliar symptoms like double vision or problem seeing, confusion, persistent pain and headache, redness and swelling around the eye, stiff neck problem, and a swollen forehead are alarming. If you experience some or a combination of these symptoms, you might need immediate medical consultation. Also, watch for the symptoms that last for more than 12 weeks. Some people might notice a recurrence of sinus infections multiple times in a year. Such incidents should be addressed immediately.

Causes of sinus infection

Treatments for sinus infection

Mild infections can be prevented using simple methods. You can get relief from the symptoms by flushing the nasal passage with saline water. You can even make a homemade solution using warm water, baking soda, and non-iodized salt, avoiding over-the-counter nasal sprays and antibiotics. Using the solution at least once a day can help you relieve the symptoms and take a breath! However, do not go for over-the-counter medications without consulting your healthcare provider. Your doctor may suggest any of the following treatment options, or a combination of some, according to the severity of the infection.

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are always the first-line treatment option for bacterial sinus infections. Depending on the type of antibiotic suggested, your course may last for 3 to 28 days. If it is severe, you might require longer treatments as the deep-rooted infection can induce more complications. Antibiotics act by attacking bacteria whereby eliminating the infection. Antibiotics may not work for viral sinus infections.
  • Nasal decongestant sprays: The most irritating part of getting a sinus infection is nasal congestion. To ease this, you might be recommended with some topical nasal decongestants. These sprays work by shrinking the swollen nasal duct making it possible for the drainage flow from the sinuses. However, overuse of this medication can result in a condition called the rebound phenomenon, which causes swelling in the nasal passages.
  • Topical nasal corticosteroids: They come in the form of sprays that address swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages and sinus openings, the major symptoms of sinus infection. These sprays are also used to effectively prevent the recurrence of nasal polyps and shrinking. Using topical nasal corticosteroids can be used long-term as they do not develop an addiction.
  • Antihistamines: They are used to prevent the inflammation that develops as an allergic reaction. Antihistamines help you combat swelling in the nasal and sinus passages.
  • Nasal decongestants and antihistamines: Using the combination of these medications can thicken the mucus. However, they should be used with caution and under the guidance of a physician.

Surgery is the last resort used when your sinus infection gets chronic and not responding enough to other modes of treatment. When the drug therapies fail to heal the infection, there’s something to worry about! Infections caused due to anatomical defects are the ones that usually respond less to medical management. Sinus surgery mainly focuses on fixing bone defects, opening closed passages, and removing nasal polyps. Sinus surgeries are usually performed under a local or general anesthesia. Though rare, untreated sinusitis can lead to complications like meningitis, infection of the bone, or a brain abscess. You might get perplexed to read the complications, and what all you can have from the world wide web! Relax, if you are one suffering from a sinus infection for years, or someone new to get it, here are a few answers for the questions that might pop up in your head after reading all of them.

FAQs

Can sinus infections last so long?

The answer to this question is not definite as there are mainly two types of sinus infections- acute and chronic. Your infection is termed acute when it lasts from ten days to eight weeks. However, a chronic sinus infection can last even longer than that. It can persist for long, show some improvement during medication, and can return bad after stopping medications. Chronic sinus infection can affect your quality of life as it can persist for even months. Acute and chronic sinus infections can be caused either by viruses or bacteria.

Are sinus infections common?

You’ll be surprised to know that there will be at least one in your friends or family circle suffering from either an acute or chronic sinus infection. Millions of people worldwide are diagnosed with sinus infections every year. As the world is witnessing faster growth and development in almost all sectors, there is also an increase in pollution and urban sprawl, which could also be blamed for this rise.

Can I manage sinus infection with at-home treatments?

You can use vaporizers to reduce sinus congestions. Homemade saline drops and warm compressed can also help relieve the symptoms to an extent. However, severe sinus infections might require medical consultation. Do not depend on over-the-counter medications without a doctor’s guidance.

How are sinus infections or sinusitis diagnosed?

A doctor understands the condition once analyzing the symptoms. For further diagnosis, doctors may even carry out allergy testing, nasal endoscopy, CT scan, x-rays, and mucus culture study, if needed.

Why should I need a nasal endoscopy?

Your doctor might suggest a nasal endoscopy to find if there are nasal polyps or other signs of obstruction. The procedure allows the doctor to examine the sinus drainage area and the nose visually.

Should I make any lifestyle changes to cope with a sinus infection?

You should follow healthy hygiene practices to avoid spreading and preventing infection. If you are a smoker, refrain from the habit, as it can worsen the infection. Drink more fluid to aid thinning the mucus. Avoid drinking cold water and beverages which can also affect sinus infection adversely.

What if I delay the treatment for a sinus infection?

Delayed treatment might induce unnecessary pain and discomfort. In very rare cases, an untreated sinus infection can even lead to serious complications like brain abscess, bone marrow infection, and meningitis.

Can I use over-the-counter nasal drops and sprays?

Though you can get relief from symptoms, over-the-counter nasal drops and sprays should only be prescribed by your healthcare provider. Even if you use it, you should read the label carefully. Do not use longer than recommended in the label.