Is a Sinus Infection Contagious? Symptoms, Transmission (Kissing), Home Remedy and Treatment Drugs, Surgery, and Cure

  • 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 (sinusitis) definition and facts

  • The majority of sinus infections are not considered contagious
  • Symptoms of sinus infections may include:
    1. A yellowish-greenish nasal discharge that may have an odor
    2. bad breath
    3. Puffiness around the eyes
    4. Headaches
    5. Pressure in the sinuses
    6. Coughing
    7. Fatigue
    8. Earaches
    9. Sore throat
  • Acute sinusitis lasts about 3 weeks.
  • Chronic sinusitis lasts about 8 weeks or longer.
  • Usually, sinus infections are caused by viruses or bacterium that inhabit a person’s body.
  • Acute sinusitis goes away after about 3 weeks.
  • Chronic sinusitis usually lasts 8 weeks or more and can be recurrent.
  • Usually, acute sinusitis is self-limiting.
  • Chronic sinusitis may require more complex treatments.
  • Treatments to help relieve signs and symptoms and cure of a sinus infection include:
    • Decongestants
    • Saline water nasal sprays
    • Humidified air and less frequently
    • Antibiotics for bacterial sinus infections
    • Surgery (for example, nasal polyp removal)
    • Natural home remedies
  • Contact your doctor if you have signs and symptoms of:
  1. Severe headaches
  2. A swollen face and/or eyes
  3. Short of breath
  4. Stiff neck
  5. Confusion

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, through kissing) with those who are more prone to infection, for example: 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. Viral or bacterial organisms that reside in the person's body are major causes of sinusitis.

Can you get a sinus infection?

Since the majority of doctors consider sinus infections to be non-contagious, the only spread of sinusitis would consist of the bacteria to the various sinuses within each person.

What are the symptoms of 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:

  1. A yellowish-greenish nasal discharge that may have an odor
  2. Bad breath
  3. Puffiness around the eyes
  4. Sinus headaches
  5. Pressure in the sinuses
  6. Coughing

Many people with a sinus infection or sinusitis may develop signs and symptoms that include:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Earaches
  3. Sore throat

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.

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What natural or home remedies help relieve sore throat symptoms?

Natural home remedies that relieve and soothe sore throat symptoms include:

Symptoms, especially those caused by viruses, usually are treated with OTC drugs that reduce inflammation and swelling, for example:

  • Decongestant nasal sprays
  • Saline sprays
  • Salt-water sprays
  • Neti-Pots with distilled water

How long do the signs and symptoms of sinusitis and sinus infections last?

  • Acute sinusitis or sinus infections symptoms and signs last about three weeks if the signs and symptoms go away.
  • Chronic sinusitis or sinus infections usually last about eight weeks or longer.
  • Recurrent sinusitis is acute sinusitis that occurs several times over one year, which may develop into chronic sinusitis.

How long does it take for a sinus infection to go away? Can they be cured?

A person may be "cured" of a sinus infection when the symptoms stop, usually after about 3 weeks. However, a "cure" often is temporary in some people that either have chronic or recurrent sinus infections. Bacterial sinus infections may benefit from antibiotics (sometimes long-term antibiotic treatment is required before the patient is "cured" of a bacterial sinusitis), but there is no antibiotic treatment for viral sinusitis.

What medications help relieve and soothe pain and other symptoms? When is surgery necessary?

Pain relievers to manage pain and other symptoms of sinus infections or sinusitis include:
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others)
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)
Some people have sinus infections because of other conditions or diseases. For example, people with asthma have airway narrowing and are at a higher risk of developing sinusitis.

Prescription medications to reduce asthma symptoms may reduce the tendency to develop sinusitis.

Surgery for sinusitis and sinus infections

Some people may need to have surgery or other procedures to open up narrowed or obstructed nasal or sinus passages,for example, people with:

When should I call my doctor for sinusitus or sinus infections?

If you develop persistent fever or have a history of recurrent or chronic sinusitis or if you have sinus symptoms that don't improve or get worse, you should contact your doctor.

However, seek medical care immediately if you develop:

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Medically Reviewed on 11/27/2018
References
REFERENCE: Brook, I, MD et al. Acute Sinusitis. Medscape. Updated: Mar 01, 2018
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/232670-overview>
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