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Sinus infections, also known as sinusitis, can be easily mistaken for the very contagious common cold.
However, just because the symptoms of sinus infections and colds are very similar does not mean that all sinus infections are as contagious as the common cold.
Whether or not a sinus infection is contagious will vary depending on the cause.
What is a sinus infection?
The sinuses are hollow cavities in the cheeks, on either side of the nose, behind the nose, and in the forehead.
These areas are normally filled with air and surrounded by a thin layer of mucus.
A sinus infection occurs when the tissues around these hollow areas swell or get infected by bacteria, fungi, or a virus.
Are sinus infections contagious?
There are several causes of sinus infections, some of which are contagious.
A sinus infection that is caused by a virus is contagious and spreads easily from person to person.
Sinus infections caused by a deformity, a blockage in the nasal passages, or allergies are not contagious.
Additionally, each type of sinus infection has several potential causes, including bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Some cases of sinusitis occur with only swelling and inflammation due to blockages in the nasal passages or deformities in the sinus cavities. Allergies and chronic exposure to pollutants can also lead to sinus infections.
For most sinus infections, treatment focuses primarily on symptom relief. There are many options available to relieve bothersome symptoms.
- nasal irrigation to reduce mucus drainage and remove irritants
- medicated nasal sprays containing corticosteroids that reduce inflammation
- oral steroids for more severe infections
In cases of bacterial sinusitis, a doctor will typically prescribe a round of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. A person with bacterial sinusitis can expect to take antibiotics for up to 2 weeks.
In instances of chronic or recurrent sinus infections, treatment will also aim to correct the underlying cause and reduce the duration or frequency of the infections.
In these cases, a doctor may suggest injecting steroids directly into the nasal passages to reduce inflammation.
For cases of chronic sinusitis that are resistant to treatment, a doctor may suggest surgery to open up the sinus passages, giving them more room to drain. In cases of chronic sinus infections caused by allergies, a doctor may recommend allergy shots.
In some cases, a person may want to self-treat the sinus infection at home. People can use over-the-counter medications that relieve symptoms until the sinus infection clears up.
Some of the most common over-the-counter treatments to help treat sinus infections include:
Acetaminophen: reduces pain and tenderness caused by swollen nasal passages
Decongestants: lessen the amount of mucus produced
Cold medications: combination drugs that treat a variety of symptoms, including congestion, pain, and cough
Additional therapies may also aid at-home treatment. For example, using steam or a humidifier may help clear nasal passages.
Some people try nasal irrigation at home, which helps to remove excess mucus and open airway passages.
People interested in herbal or natural treatments may consider using essential oils.
Some oils that may help with sinus pressure include lemon oil, lavender oil, and eucalyptus oil. Some caution should be used with essential oils as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate or control them.
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