Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Dr. Menachof, MD, has specialized in conditions around the head, throat, ear, nose, neck and face for over 20 years, and was the first to bring sublingual allergy drops to Colorado in 2005. He has been recognized as a Fellow by multiple academies, named one of America’s Top Facial Plastic Surgeons continually since 2003 and is featured in multiple national publications.

Though sinus infections aren’t contagious, the underlying cause of the infection — for example, a virus like the common cold — is often contagious. If you’re dealing with a sinus infection that just won’t go away, our specialists at Advanced ENT & Allergy Center will discover the root cause of your symptoms and help you find lasting relief.

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What Is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection occurs when fluid builds up in your nasal cavities, leading to inflammation, sinus pain, and other frustrating symptoms like:

Though the symptoms of most sinus infections are similar, they aren’t always caused by the same underlying issue. Some sinus infections (for example, those caused by viruses) are contagious. On the other hand, if your infection is due to allergies, nasal polyps, or a structural problem like a deviated septum, you won’t have to worry about spreading it to other people.

To get you started on the road to relief, let’s take a closer look at common causes of sinus infections.

How Do Sinus Infections Occur?

Viruses

Viruses are the most common cause of sinus infections. They create the perfect environment for a sinus infection to thrive. Congested sinuses become a breeding ground for germs, leading to worsening symptoms and a longer-lasting infection.

A viral sinus infection isn’t just the most common type — it’s also the most contagious. Viruses travel on small, airborne drops of water, and they can survive for hours or even days on most surfaces.

If a virus is behind your sinus infection, you should expect it to last 7 to 10 days. During that time, you can minimize the spread of the virus by:

    • Wearing a mask.
    • Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
    • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
    • Refraining from touching your face.
    • Avoiding close contact with others.

To shorten the course of your infection and find relief from your symptoms, try out these treatments:

    • Steam: Inhaling steam hydrates your sinuses and improves mucus drainage.
    • Nasal sprays and flushes: We recommend a spray like fluticasone, which becomes more effective with time. Some nasal sprays (for example, Afrin) can only be used for shorter periods — so choose your spray carefully!
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Decongestants reduce symptoms like swelling, facial pressure, and difficulty breathing. To quickly lessen the impact of your infection, try an OTC pain reliever. Be sure to consult with your doctor first, to ensure that the new medicine doesn’t interact negatively with your current medications.

Bacteria

When they’re trapped in the sinus passages, bacteria or fungi can also give rise to sinus infections. However, because they form inside the nose and not as a result of an outside infection, bacterial sinus infections are not contagious.

Only 2% of sinus infections are caused by bacteria, making bacterial sinusitis a relatively rare condition. A bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics, and it usually lasts for three to six weeks.

If your sinus infection has lasted for more than six weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. Our experts at Advanced ENT will put together a customized treatment plan that works for you.

Allergies

Allergies are another common cause of recurring sinus infections or chronic sinusitis. When you come into contact with certain allergens (for example, pollen or pet dander), your body releases a chemical called histamine to shield itself.

Histamine, in turn, can cause swelling, congestion, sneezing, and the other symptoms that accompany a sinus infection.

To overcome your allergy-induced sinus infection, you’ll have to treat its source. Options include:

    • Antihistamines (Claritin, Zrytec, Allegra)
    • Nasal sprays (decongestant, anticholinergic, saline, steroid, etc.)
    • Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy

For long-term relief, our specialists recommend allergy shots or allergy drops. Both treatments work by gradually introducing your body to allergens, allowing it to build up a tolerance over time. Within months (and in some cases, weeks), your allergy symptoms will begin to clear up.

Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps, which are small, harmless growths of tissue in your nasal passages and sinuses, can obstruct airflow and lead to congestion. As time passes, this blockage can bring about a sinus infection.

In most cases, your doctor will treat your polyps with a steroid nasal spray, shrinking their size and facilitating airflow. Sometimes, a different medication or surgery will be required to eliminate your nasal polyps.

Deviated Septum

Though it sounds complicated, a deviated septum is actually a common and simple condition. If your nasal septum (the wall that separates your nostrils) is crooked or off-center, you’ve got a deviated septum.

A severely deviated septum can make breathing more difficult and hinder your ability to effectively clear bacteria from your sinuses. Surgery is the best way to correct a deviated septum, and it’ll lower your risk of sinus infections in the long run.

How to Prevent a Sinus Infection

Though some sinus infections (for example, those caused by a structural issue) are hard to prevent, you can still take precautions to lower the odds of infection. Our team at Advanced ENT has compiled these tips for stopping sinus infections before they start:

  • prevent sinus infectionClean your hands regularly. This minimizes your chances of developing a viral infection.
  • Stay hydrated. Water loosens up your mucus, allowing it to drain properly.
  • Use an air purifier and humidifier at home. Adding moisture to the air is a great way to prevent sinusitis.
  • Avoid allergens. Working with a doctor to build an allergy treatment plan is a crucial part of treating allergy-induced sinusitis.
  • Receive recommended vaccines. Vaccines, including the flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine, are the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria.
  • Don’t come into close contact with people who have infections. It’s best to maintain a safe distance from sick people until they’re no longer contagious.

Get Lasting Relief

Nobody wants to manage the painful symptoms of a sinus infection alone. Thankfully, our team at Advanced ENT & Allergy Center is here to help. We’ll uncover the true cause of your sinusitis, then collaborate with you to develop a treatment plan that matches your goals, lifestyle, and routine.

Let’s work together to get you lasting relief. Call us at (303) 792-3242 or book an online or in-person appointment today.

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Denver’s Top
Allergy + Sinus Clinic

Our team has extensive, specialized training on allergy treatment and immunology from the American Academy of Otolaryngologic Allergy. Our allergy doctors were the first doctors in the state of Colorado to treat allergies with sublingual immunotherapy. We have a 20-year track record of helping patients find lasting relief.

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