Are Sinus Infections Contagious?

Published on: December 6, 2020
Woman with sinus infection blowing her nose.

With so much concern about contagious diseases like virus infections, you may wonder if other infections are contagious. Are sinus infections contagious? How long are sinus infections contagious? Are ear infections contagious? Here is what you need to know about sinus and ear infections and whether you can catch them from other people.

What Causes Sinus and Ear Infections?

To understand whether a sinus or ear infection is contagious, you need to first understand what causes these types of infections. A sinus infection occurs when the sinus cavities around the nose become inflamed; an ear infection occurs when the eustachian tubes or middle ear become inflamed. There are many different reasons an ear or sinus infection occurs. Most commonly, a viral infection like a cold causes acute sinusitis or a middle ear infection. However, sinus and ear infections can be caused by bacteria, allergies or other health issues.

There can be several factors involved in ear or sinus infections, especially for those with a chronic sinus infection that has lasted for more then three months. The cause of an ear or sinus infection is the key to knowing if the condition is contagious. The initial cause of the sinus or ear infection may have been a virus like the cold or flu. These viruses are contagious and can be passed to others. But how long are sinus infections contagious that are caused by colds/flu? The answer is only a few days from the time you catch the virus, usually no more than a week.

Are All Sinus and Ear Infections Contagious?

There are many different causes of sinus and ear infections and not all are contagious. For example, a sinus or ear infection can be caused by bacteria, which is not a contagious type of infection. In addition, sinus and ear infections can be caused by anatomical issues that result in inflammation in the ear, nose and throat. Nose polyps, deviated septum, tumors and other abnormalities can restrict drainage and other factors that can contribute to ear or sinus infections.

When sinusitis or an ear infection occurs, you may not know the cause. The only way to know if it is caused by a virus that is contagious is to be tested. There are medical tests that can determine if you have a viral infection that can be spread to others. Your doctor or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can perform a viral test if you are concerned that your infection may be contagious to others.

Can You Catch an Ear or Sinus Infection?

Both the ear canal and sinuses are connected – when you get a cold or flu, these areas can become inflamed, causing an ear or sinus infection. While cold and flu viruses are contagious, the associated ear or sinus infection is not. One person may only get the cold or flu from the virus without succumbing to a sinus or ear infection. Another person may get the cold or flu that evolves into acute sinusitis or a middle ear infection. Only the virus is contagious, not the related infections.

Man with a cold and sinus pain due to sinusitis.

Preventing the Spread of Viruses

If you have an ear or sinus infection caused by a virus, you can help prevent the spread of the illness to others. Viruses that cause colds and flus that can contribute to ear and sinus infections are spread by infected people. You can become contagious before you get symptoms of a cold or flu, which is why it is important to always practice good hygiene. Cold and flu viruses can be spread through the air – if you breathe in air with droplets containing a virus, you can become infected. Also, personal contact can spread the virus. Kissing, hugging, shaking hands and other touching can spread the virus from person to person.

To reduce the chance of viral infections and subsequent ear or sinus infections, those who are sick with a cold or flu should stay home. Those who are sick should cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing to reduce the number of droplets spread into the air. Everyone should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth – this can introduce viruses into the body. Sanitizing surfaces like counters, door handles and other common areas can also reduce the spread of contagious illnesses that can cause ear and sinus infections.

Are sinus infections contagious? Technically, sinus or ear infections are not contagious, but the cause of these infections can be spread if it is a virus. Reducing your exposure to viruses can help prevent contagious ear, nose and throat infections. If you have a sinus or ear infection, you can find out if it is contagious and get treatment by visiting your doctor or an ENT specialist. Remember to wash your hands frequently and keep your distance from others to prevent the spread of viruses that can cause sinus and ear infections.

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