Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Sinus infections (also known as sinusitis) are a common yet bothersome ailment. Between the uncomfortable nasal pressure, congestion, and headaches, no one would want to pass that on to someone else. So, you may have been wondering, “Are sinus infections contagious?” The answer is a bit complicated; however, we will outline how to treat your symptoms, discuss signs that will determine if you or a loved one needs emergency care due to a sinus infection. 

Types of Sinus Infections

There are two types of sinus infections, and it’s impossible to tell the difference based on symptoms. They appear the same, but their origin came from different illnesses, which is the only way to tell. Between the two types, which are viral and bacterial, they account for roughly 29 million cases of sinus infections per year

Viral Sinus Infection

The majority of sinus infections occur because of viruses. They start as the common cold or flu and later develop into a sinus infection. The infection itself isn’t contagious, but the virus is. So, you can pass the cold or flu to someone else, but whoever catches it isn’t guaranteed to develop an infection either. Typically viral infections improve after 5-7 days on their own. 

Bacterial Sinus Infection 

Caused by bacteria, these types of sinus infections are not contagious. These infections could occur from seasonal allergies or dust. However, bacterial sinusitis infections will linger longer than viral infections. They could last seven to ten days and even worsen, which means you may need to seek antibiotics from your physician to treat a bacterial infection.

man with a headache and runny nose

Symptoms of Sinus Infections

Even though there are two types of sinus infections, their symptoms are identical. They may vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Green or yellow mucus 
  • Congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Facial pain that worsens when bending over
  • Headaches
  • Toothaches
  • Ear pressure
  • Lack of smell
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue

Home Remedies to Treat & Prevent Sinus Infections 

If you’ve come down with sinusitis, it’s best to treat it as a viral sinus infection and stay home from work or school to prevent the virus from spreading to everyone you come in contact with. Even a cough or sneeze can transmit the virus to someone else. 

If you’re looking for a way to prevent a sinus infection, you want to avoid contracting the viruses that can turn into one. Wash your hands regularly and avoid contact with your mouth or eyes, if possible. If you already have a cold or the flu, there are some home remedies that you could try to avoid developing a sinus infection. 

humidifier on a table


A humidifier or a vaporizer in your home can add moisture to the air and reduce congestion. Dry air can irritate your sinuses and create a prime environment for a sinus infection to develop. 

Sinus Rinse

Using a saltwater solution to flush out the mucus from your nasal passages can make breathing easier. 

Nasal Spray 

An over-the-counter nasal spray can moisten your sinuses, unblock congestion, and help treat inflammation. 

OTC Medication 

Over-the-counter medication like pain relievers and decongestants can help reduce sinus pressure, pain, post-nasal drip, and lung irritation. For children under age 4, nasal suction is the best alternative to this since they shouldn’t be given cold medicine at that age. 

Hydrate & Rest

We do most of our healing when we’re asleep, and staying hydrated can thin. Plenty of rest and staying hydrated are crucial to health and prosperity. 

woman using a nasal spray for her sinuses

What is Chronic Sinusitis? 

Chronic sinusitis is when your sinuses are inflamed or swollen for more than three months at a time, even with treatment. It interferes with how mucus usually drains, so your nose stays stuffy. This can result from a sinus infection or allergies and can increase your chance of developing nasal polyps. If you have a deviated septum, it does increase your risk of developing chronic sinusitis. 

For adults, chronic sinusitis is often a result of allergies (dust, mold, pollen, fungi), causing nasal swelling and blocking sinus drainage. You’ll prevent chronic sinusitis the same way you would a cold, flu, allergies, or viral sinus infection.

Emergency Care for Sinus Infections

Some sinus infections can resolve on their own with self-care, but there are some circumstances when you should seek care at your closest emergency center:

  • Symptoms persist after a week
  • Symptoms improve and then worsen
  • Severe headaches and sinus pressure
  • Persistent fever

Those symptoms signify that antibiotics may be necessary to get rid of the infection. Having a sinus infection can be uncomfortable, but when it gets to a point where it’s not improving or it’s become unbearable, then seeking out emergency care for relief is recommended. 

At Austin Emergency Centers, we strive to provide concierge-level care around the clock, with no wait. We’ll provide prompt care and treatment when you need it most.