Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Sinus infections (sinusitis) can make it hard to breathe, and the pressure in your face can hurt. It can also make you cough and produce a lot of discharge. That may make you wonder if you could pass it on to someone else.

The answer is sort of. But it really depends on what caused it. And often you just don’t know.

Viruses

Most sinus infections are brought on by a virus. If that’s what happened to you, then yes, you can spread the virus that caused it but not the infection itself. Another person might get sick but may or may not get a sinus infection. Most of the time, these kinds of viruses cause colds, which may or may not lead to sinus infections.

Bacteria

Sometimes when the sinuses are blocked and filled with mucus, bacteria can grow and cause an infection. If your sinus infection lasts more than 10-14 days, you’re more likely to have bacterial sinusitis. If your infection is caused by bacteria, you can’t spread it.

Other Causes

Some people have chronic sinusitis, which lasts for at least 12 weeks. It’s often caused by allergies, polyps (tissue growths in your nose), or a crooked wall between your nostrils called a deviated septum.

Sometimes, tobacco smoke, dry air, or polluted air can also trigger sinusitis.

You may not know what is causing your sinusitis, so it’s best to avoid close contact with other people and to make an appointment with your doctor.

How Long Is It Contagious?

If a virus is to blame, you may have been contagious days before you got the sinus infection.

Most viruses can be spread for just a few days, but sometimes you could pass it on for a week or more.

How Is Sinusitis Spread?

You can get it the same way you get cold and flu -- by breathing it in or passing it from your hands to your mouth after touching something. Viruses get in the air after someone who is sick sneezes or coughs. They also can be passed on when someone shakes hands with someone who is sick or touches a doorknob or anything else the sick person has touched.

To keep from getting a virus, wash your hands often with soap and water. Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. Try to avoid people you have cold- and flu-like symptoms.

If you have sinusitis, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands to avoid making anyone sick.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on June 01, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Sinusitis Overview."

CDC: "Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)."

Cleveland Clinic: "Acute Sinusitis."

Columbia University, Go Ask Alice: "When are colds contagious?"

Common Colds: "Protect Yourself and Others."

KidsHealth: "Common Cold."

MayoClinic: "Acute Sinusitis," "Chronic Sinusitis: Causes."

Southern Methodist University: "Sinus Infection vs. the Common Cold."

UptoDate: "Patient information: Acute sinusitis (sinus infection) (Beyond the Basics)," "Patient Information: Chronic rhinosinusitis (Beyond the Basics)."

DukeHealth: "Is it a bacterial infection or virus?"

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