Is a Sinus Infection Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Sinus Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of a sinus infection or sinusitis can include

  • Stuffy nose
  • Drainage or discharge from the nose
  • Cough
  • Pain in the jaw or teeth
  • Sinus headache
  • Nausea

Is a sinus infection contagious?

Experts disagree about the contagiousness of sinus infections (also termed sinusitis and rhinosinusitis). Because bacteria and viruses (and occasionally, fungi) are the cause of most sinus infections, some experts say that the bacteria, viruses, or fungi can be transferred from person-to–person, and occasionally cause sinus infections. Other experts say that sinus infections, although caused by bacteria and viruses, occur because the conditions in the individual's sinuses are optimal for infection. Moreover, infection can be caused bacteria, viruses, or fungi that are already present in a person so that person-to-person transfer is not required for them to develop. However, the majority of doctors think that most people do not transmit sinus infections except in rare instances, and conclude that sinus infections are not contagious.

Still, there is widespread agreement that bacteria, fungi and/or viruses are transmitted from person-to-person (contagious) even if the disease, sinusitis, is not. It's recommended that individuals with sinus infections avoid direct contact (for example, kissing) with those that are more prone to infection like infants, the elderly, and those who have weakened immune systems to reduce the chance of transferring bacteria, fungi, and viruses to other people as they may cause problems other than sinus infections.

How will I know if I have a sinus infection?

Sinus infections usually begin with the symptoms of a cold (for example, a runny nose, occasional cough and/or mild fever), and then develop into pain and pressure in the sinus cavities. About 7 to 10 days after initial cold-like symptoms other symptoms develop that suggest you may have a sinus infection. Sinus infection symptoms include

  • a yellowish-greenish nasal discharge that may have an odor,
  • bad breath,
  • puffiness around the eyes,
  • headaches,
  • pressure in the sinuses, and
  • coughing.

Many people also may develop

Definitive diagnosis of a sinus infection is based on the patient's history, physical exam, and evidence of sinus inflammation that may be seen with X-rays or CT scan of the sinuses.

How long do sinusitis symptoms last?

  • Acute sinusitis symptoms last about three weeks
  • Chronic sinusitis usually lasts about eight weeks or longer
  • Recurrent sinusitis is acute sinusitis that occurs several times over one year that may develop into chronic sinusitis.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/21/2015

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