Millions of people in the US suffer from sinus infections each year. A sinus infection, medically known as acute viral or bacterial sinusitis, occurs when the lining of the sinuses becomes inflamed and swollen.
This can lead to blockages in the nasal passages that prevent mucus from draining correctly. Symptoms of a sinus infection can include a stuffy or runny nose, facial pain, headache, and mucus-like discharge from the nose.
In this article, we will cover the various aspects of whether sinus infections are contagious. Read on to discover the answer: Are sinus infections contagious?
What Is a Sinus Infection?
Rhinosinusitis, also known as sinusitis, is a medical condition in which the lining of the sinuses and nose become inflamed. This inflammation causes swelling in the hollow areas within the facial bones that are connected to the nasal openings.
Acute sinusitis is short-lived, usually lasting less than four weeks. Whereas, chronic sinusitis can be persistent and last for an extended period of time, often more than 12 weeks.
Issues such as allergies, vasomotor responses, viruses, bacteria, or structural problems can lead to inflammation in the sinuses and may cause acute or chronic sinusitis symptoms.
Proper diagnosis and treatment by a professional are recommended to address these issues.
Viral sinusitis, the most common cause of acute sinusitis, often occurs alongside a cold. It is characterized by a thick, yellow-green coloured nasal discharge. Bacterial sinusitis is much less common and usually only becomes a factor once viral sinus infection has already taken hold.
Treatment for viral sinusitis will typically involve alleviating symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications and supportive care. Antibiotics are not routinely prescribed as they are effective only against bacterial-type infections.
Symptoms of acute sinusitis may include fever, facial pain or pressure, and headache. Some others are difficulty or inability to smell, fatigue, nasal congestion or blockage, cough, and bad breath. Most people experience relief from their symptoms within 7-10 days.
“Contagious” refers to the ability of an infectious pathogen (eg. bacteria or virus) to spread from one person to another. This is mainly achieved through contact with bodily fluids or mucous membranes (eg. saliva, sweat, etc.).
Are Sinus Infections Contagious?
Yes sinus infections are contagious because the viruses that cause them are easily transmitted from one person to another. It’s essential to note that if you’re in close contact with someone with a sinus infection, you may be at risk of being exposed to the same pathogen.
Sharing items such as towels and bedding with an infected person can be a transmission source. Therefore, practicing good hygiene and avoiding close contact with an individual with a sinus infection is essential.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors for Sinus Infections?
There are various causes of sinus inflammation, including allergies and the common cold. Due to the improper drainage of mucus, this can lead to sinus infections. In terms of pathogens, viruses are the most common cause, followed by bacteria. The most common viruses that cause viral rhino-sinusitis are rhinovirus, influenza virus, and parainfluenza virus. The most common bacteria associated with acute bacterial rhino-sinusitis are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Moraxella catarrhalis, with the first two comprising approximately 75 percent of cases of ABRS.
Risk factors for sinusitis include older age, smoking, air travel, exposure to changes in atmospheric pressure (eg. deep sea diving), swimming, asthma and allergies, dental disease, and immunodeficiency. If someone with an active viral or bacterial infection coughs or sneezes on another person, this may result in the virus being spread.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sinus Infections?
Common signs and symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Nasal congestion
- Facial pain/pressure
- Thick, discolored drainage from the nose (nasal discharge or mucous)
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Sinus infections can also cause fatigue, feeling unwell, and decreased sense of smell and taste. Furthermore, sinus infection patients may experience tooth pain and swollen eyes or cheeks.
If you are experiencing a fever that lasts for more than a few days, sudden and severe facial pain, double vision, these might be signs of a more severe infection in which case you should seek immediate medical attention.
In addition, if you have confusion or difficulty thinking, swelling and redness around one or both eyes, a stiff neck, or symptoms that initially improve and then worsen again within seven days (double worsening), medical attention is advised immediately or consider going to the Emergency Department.
You should also seek medical attention if your sinusitis symptoms last more than ten days.
How Is a Sinus Infection Diagnosed?
For the most part, sinus infections are diagnosed based off clinical history. Occasionally, cultures can be taken for recurrent presentations. It is important to decipher whether your symptoms are a true infection or simply an allergic or non-allergic response.
Your doctor may also order a CT scan to examine your sinuses for signs of inflammation and also to check for mucus buildup. This is usually only done in persistent or recurrent cases. Furthermore, ENT specialists occasionally pass a thin flexible tube containing a camera through the nose to better inspect the nasal passages.
How Do I Stop Getting Sinus Infections?
Ways to prevent getting or spreading a sinus infection include:
- Avoid contact with people who have colds/flu-like symptoms
- Wash hands regularly with soap and water
- Avoid touching your eyes/nose when out in public places
- Keep up-to-date with vaccinations, especially if traveling abroad
- Reduce exposure to allergens such as dust mites by using air purifiers
- Wear protective masks when outside in pollen season
- Keeping hydrated and maintaining good nutrition will also help boost immunity
- Performing saline solution nasal and sinus rinses with directions from your doctor.
How Do I Treat a Sinus Infection?
Symptomatic treatment is the primary course for sinusitis. Antibiotics are only required for a small percentage of cases. Generally, most cases of acute sinusitis improve without antibiotic treatment.
Pain relief medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with discomfort. Over the counter decongestants and sprays should be avoided for longer than 2-3 days as they can cause rebound congestion (making your symptoms worse).
Nasal irrigation includes flushing out your nose and sinuses with a saline solution several times per day. This can also help decrease associated pain and shorten the duration of symptoms. Make sure you swap your saline rinse bottle every 3 months. It should be thrown away or replaced if you notice any discolourations.
Saline rinses can be done using a syringe, Netipot, or bottle sprayer. Nasal irrigation kits are available at most drugstores without needing a prescription. The most common one is from NeilMed.
Intra-nasal steroids may reduce swelling in the nose within 2–3 days of use with few side effects. They most commonly contain Beclomethasone, Budesonide, or Mometasone. Some brand names of intra-nasal steroid sprays include Avamys, Dymista, and Nasonex. There has not been shown to be a significant difference between the types of nasal sprays.
These are just some common examples as this list is not meant to be exhaustive. In summary, it is best to seek medical attention if you are worried about having a sinus infection.
Other treatments for sinusitis include:
- Nasal anticholinergics such as ipratropium bromide
- Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine (should not be used for more than 2-3 days)
- Nasal decongestant sprays such as oxymetazoline and phenylephrine (should not be used for more than 2-3 days)
- Oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine/Benadryl
- Mucolytics such as guaifenesin
- Steam inhalation
While steam inhalation may temporarily relieve congestion, there is no evidence that it will shorten the duration or severity of symptoms; it is essential only to use clean water when creating steam.
Acute Sinus Infections
So are sinus infections contagious? Yes, they can be contagious. The viruses that cause sinus infections can be spread through contact with droplets or mucous membranes.
To avoid getting or spreading viruses, practice good hand-washing and keep up-to-date with your vaccinations.
Telehealth has made it easier than ever to access medical care from the comfort of your own home. It can be especially beneficial if you are short on time or unable to leave your house due to illness.
With the right treatment plan, you can manage your sinus infection and get back to feeling better soon.
See a Virtual Doctor for Sinus Infection Treatment.
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