Is a Sinus Infection Contagious?

Medically Reviewed on 2/24/2023

Facts you should know about a sinus infection (sinusitis)

Sinus pressure is a symptom of a sinus infection.
Sinus pressure is a symptom of a sinus infection.
  • 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 bacteria 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 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

Can you catch a sinus infection from someone?

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, the infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that are already present in a person so 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.

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.


Sinus Infection: Sinusitis Dos and Don'ts See Slideshow

How to tell the difference between a cold and 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
  • Sinus headaches
  • Pressure in the sinuses
  • Coughing

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

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 scans of the sinuses.

What are the stages of sinus infection?

A sinus infection can be broken down into several stages. These stages vary in severity and length depending on their cause and other factors.

The four most common stages of sinus infection include:

  1. Acute sinusitis or sinus infections symptoms and signs last about three weeks if the signs and symptoms go away.
  2. Subacute sinusitis usually lasts 4-12 weeks with symptoms that may become less severe but are more persistent.
  3. Chronic sinusitis or sinus infections usually last about eight weeks or longer.
  4. Recurrent sinusitis is acute sinusitis that occurs several times over one year and may develop into chronic sinusitis.

Will a sinus infection go away without antibiotics?

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 meds are best for sinus infection?

Pain relievers to manage pain and other symptoms of sinus infections or sinusitis include:

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 in people with the following conditions:

When should I be worried about a sinus infection?

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.

Seek medical care immediately if you develop:

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Medically Reviewed on 2/24/2023
Brook, I., et al. "Acute Sinusitis.: Medscape. Mar. 1, 2018. <>.