Sinus infections are contagious only if they are caused by a virus, rather than bacteria, fungi, allergies, or other causes. Here's what everyone should know.
The sinuses are cavities above your eyebrows and in your upper cheeks. When your immune system is active, they can swell up, creating discomfort.
Usually, the problem began with a cold or flu virus. Even after you stop sneezing, you might have pain in your sinuses. Altogether your symptoms typically last no more than 10 days.
The medical term for this problem is rhinosinusitis or sinusitis. But sinusitis may have other causes, particularly allergies.
What are the symptoms of sinusitis?
You may have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain or pressure on your forehead, between your eyes, on the sides of your nose, or at your upper jaw
- Thick, yellow, green, or cloudy discharge from your nose
- Runny or congested nose
- Loss of smell
- Postnasal drip, mucus going down your throat
- Sore or irritated throat
- Bad breath
If symptoms last for 12 weeks, you have what’s known as chronic sinusitis.
Is it allergies or something else?
If you have itchy eyes, suspect allergies. If the problem comes in the spring or fall every year, that’s another big clue.
Allergies can develop at any time. That’s why over-the-counter hair dyes instruct you to do a skin allergy test each time you use one.
If you have fever, bad breath, and a thick yellow or green mucus, the problem is probably not allergies.
Are sinus infections contagious?
Not really. For contagion to be an issue, the infection must be caused by a virus. You can spread the virus to other people, but they may not end up with clogged sinuses like yours.
Viruses spread when you cough or sneeze, sending tiny drops of mucus into the air. The virus-loaded drops land on the mouths and noses of other people. The drops can also land on metal or plastic surfaces other people touch, like a doorknob or subway pole, where they can live for longer than a day.
To avoid spreading your virus, don’t share food or food utensils or kiss anybody. When you sneeze or cough, try to send the germs into a tissue or the inside of your elbow. If you sneeze into your hand, make sure you wash your hands right away.
Other causes for sinusitis
Besides allergies, the other possible causes are bacteria, fungi, and growths or structural problems in your nose.
Bacterial and fungal infections require medication. These types of infections aren’t contagious.
If you have more than one period of uncomfortable sinuses over a year, don’t just live with the problem. Talk to your doctors about what you can do. You may have nasal polyps or a tumor, growths in the nose.
You may have a deviated septum. The septum is the wall between the nasal passages. Even if your nose doesn’t look crooked, the wall may be crooked or off-center. This requires surgical correction, if it turns out it may be contributing to a frequent problem.
September 20, 2019
Janet O’Dell RN