A sinus infection is often confused with a common cold. However, it is the next phase or a side effect that occurs from a cold.
A sinus infection occurs when the tissue of the sinuses becomes swollen and inflamed. Sinuses are normally full of air; however, the sinuses can become blocked and filled with fluid, creating the perfect environment for germs such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi to grow and cause infection. A sinus infection can cause headaches and pain in part of your cheek, eyes, and upper teeth. But are sinus infections contagious?
When does a sinus infection become contagious?
A sinus infection becomes contagious depending upon the cause of the infection. In most of the cases of sinusitis, the infection may not contagious, but there are a few cases where it could carry forward from one person to another.
If your sinus infection is the result of a virus, then you automatically become a carrier of the infection and you can very well spread the infection to others. When another person catches the sinus infection from the infected person, then it starts off as a cold with flu-like symptoms and eventually aggravates into a sinus infection. In some cases the condition could just stay as a cold and not worsen into sinusitis. If you have a sinus infection that has been triggered by a virus attack, then you may have been a carrier and contagious even before the condition worsened into a sinus infection. A sinus infection can also be caused by bacteria. In case of a sinus infection caused by bacteria, a person is not contagious. However, a sinus infection triggered by bacteria lasts longer and is often more severe in intensity compared to a viral sinus infection.
The doctor cannot at the first instance tell a person if the sinus is indicating a viral or a bacterial infection as the symptoms are often common. The best way to make out the difference between the two is from the duration or time taken for the symptoms to show up. In case of a viral infection, one starts showing improvement in about five to seven days. However, in case of a bacterial infection, the condition usually persists for about seven to ten days. In some cases it could even continue for a longer period of time. In case of a bacterial infection, the condition can even worsen after seven days.
Bacterial sinus infections
Bacterial sinusitis can sometimes develop following a viral upper respiratory infection (such as a cold or flu).
Common bacteria that cause sinus infection include:
- Streptococcus pneumonia
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Haemophilus influenza
- Moraxella catarrhalis
According to the Infectious Disease Society of America, bacterial sinus infection is more likely in adults and children if symptoms are present for more than 10 days or are severe (e.g., nasal discharge or facial pain that lasts more than three to four days; fever of 102 degrees F or higher).
Viral sinus infections
The respiratory viruses that cause colds, flu, and sinusitis are spread mostly via hand-to-hand contact. Therefore, they are contagious. Tiny air droplets that result from nose-blowing or coughing are the main carriers of respiratory viruses. If you touch something or someone contaminated by a virus, and then touch your own nose, eyes, or mouth, you can develop a cold or acute sinusitis. Respiratory viruses spread especially fast among children in close proximity to each other, such as in school or day-care environments. Common viruses that cause colds and sinusitis include rhinoviruses and influenza viruses A and B. Children younger than two years of age and adults older than 65 have the highest risks for getting the flu.
Types of sinus infection
Preventing contagious sinusitis
There are many precautions you can take to reduce the spread of sinus infections via respiratory viruses:
- Hand hygiene
- Social distancing
Washing your hands with soap and water and disinfecting hands with sanitizer can reduce the chance of contagion from respiratory viruses. If you or your child has a cold, flu, or sinusitis, consider staying home from work or school. Wearing a face mask can reduce the spread of viruses that cause sinusitis. You can buy these masks at most pharmacies. The pneumococcal vaccine and the flu shot can help prevent viral and pneumococcal/bacterial infection and sinusitis.
- Get plenty of rest. This will help your body fight against any invaders.
- Drink lots of fluids. This will help you relieve headaches and promote drainage in your sinus cavities.
- Breathe in hot steam or hold a towel that you've soaked in warm water up to your face. Either option will help to open up your clogged sinuses and relieve sinus pressure and headaches. Even taking a hot shower will help you loosen mucus. A cool mist vaporizer will have a similar effect.
- Avoid cigarette smoke and limit your exposure to other pollutants.
A sinus infection is commonly not contagious. However, many conditions that lead to sinus infections such as cold, flu and respiratory viruses are contagious, especially among children. To prevent a contagious sinus infection, you must take steps to prevent respiratory viruses.
Can sinus infections turn complicated?
Antibiotics are largely recommended to treat the underlying infection that is the main cause of the sinus. In rare cases, sinusitis can have some serious health complications wherein the infection could spread to the eyes and even to the brain.
Common complications seen in most cases are around the eyes, which can result in redness, inflammation around the eye bags, and even reduced eyesight. In some rare cases it can even result in partial or complete loss of eyesight. The more severe form of sinus infection is known as cavernous sinus thrombosis. IV antibiotics are immediately administered to the patients as a part of the treatment process. The patient requires hospitalization as a a couple of tests including CT scan may be conducted to drain out the fluid.
In some rarer cases of sinusitis, the infection is seen to spread to the brain, affecting the center part of the brain. This can result in serious complications and some fatal health conditions like meningitis or brain abscess.
Home remedies to prevent the spread of sinus infections
The best way to prevent the sinus infection from spreading to others is by treating it at the root. It is important to eradicate the bacteria and the virus from the body completely. Antibiotics are generally recommended to treat the infection, but there are a few home remedies that may be useful in treating the infection completely.
- Warm liquids: Hydrating the body is very important during a sinus infection. There are chances of the mucus getting solidified which can lead to further complications. Warm water, soups, and broths help in melting the mucus, making it easier for the body to get rid of it naturally.
- Steam: Steam is extremely important in treating a sinus infection. You can also use essential oils like eucalyptus oil or oil of oregano to the water when inhaling the steam. The steam vapors help in calming down inflamed sinus pockets and helps in releasing the mucus by relaxing it.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is essential for the appropriate functioning of the immune system. A strong immune system is important for the body to protect itself from various infections and to fight the bacteria and viruses from inside. Vitamin C can be consumed through citrus fruits or as a multivitamin. It has several antioxidant properties which help in guarding the cells and tissues of our body from any severe infection and wear and tear.
- Humidifier: Use a humidifier in your room to warm the air and create some moisture in the living space. You can add moisture to the air either through a humidifier, a nasal spray with saline solution, or just sit in a bathroom filled with steam. This can be very helpful in getting rid of nasal congestion and helps in getting better sleep. This is also a very helpful remedy in case of sinus headaches.
- Diet: Maintaining a healthy diet can help you not only treat but prevent a number of infections. Avoid processed foods and concentrate on eating natural foods. A healthy diet should contain natural vegetables that are grown naturally and organically. Eat fruits to get essential vitamins and minerals naturally. Healthy fats should also form an important part of your diet. Omega 3 fatty acids help in reducing inflammation and swelling of the sinuses and can help in finding immediate relief.
Preventing sinus infections in kids
Kids are most susceptible to sinus infections, as they have lower immunity levels compared to adults. If your child is suffering from a common cold, avoid sending them to school as they could spread the infection to others. Keep your child hydrated at all times to give them relief and help the mucus to come out naturally.