Sneezing, snuffling, and sinus pressure: are you the only one suffering, or is your sinus infection contagious? Many sinus infections are caused by spreadable viruses like the common cold, but noncontagious bacterial infections can have similar symptoms. How can you tell if your sinus infection is contagious, and what can you do to prevent spreading your sickness to unsuspecting victims?
There's more to this than you may expect. Before we go into the details, let's cover some basics about sinus infections.
What Are Sinus Infections?
Sinus infections, also known as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is inflammation of the tissue lining your sinuses. Your sinuses produce mucus to help keep your nasal membranes moist and protect you against allergens, irritants, or pollutants.
Each sinus cavity is filled with air, but when you have a sinus infection, they fill with fluid and germs. The proliferation of these germs and irritants is what causes your illness to become a sinus infection.
Sinus infections are commonly caused by:
- Allergic rhinitis, better known as allergies
- The common cold
- Nasal polyps, small growths inside your sinus passages
- Deviated septum, a condition where your septum is crooked or off-center
Not all sinus infections are the same though. There are different kinds of sinusitis depending on the duration and source of your symptoms.
- Acute sinusitis, which can last 2-4 weeks and start with cold symptoms like a stuffy or runny nose and facial pain.
- Subacute sinusitis, which can last between 4 and 12 weeks and is most often caused by bacteria or a respiratory virus.
- Chronic sinusitis, where your symptoms last for 12 or more weeks. Chronic sinus infections are most often caused by infections, nasal polyps, or swelling in your nasal cavities.
- Recurrent sinusitis, or sinusitis that occurs many times a year. This is most often caused by a deviated septum or allergy symptoms.
Sinus infection symptoms can vary depending on what kind of sinus infection you have, but a common thread between all of them is nasal congestion, runny nose or nasal discharge, sore throat, and facial pain or sinus headache.
Now we can get to the question you're asking: are sinus infections contagious?
Are Sinus Infections Contagious?
In short, no. Sinus infections themselves are not contagious, but what causes them can be contagious.
If your sinus infection was caused by a virus like the common cold, then it's possible to spread this to another person. They can then get sick from this virus, which can develop into a sinus infection. However, even if someone catches your cold, it's not guaranteed that they'll develop a sinus infection after.
If your sinus infection was caused by bacteria, irritants, or a fungus, you are not contagious and cannot spread your infection to others.
But if bacteria and viruses both cause infections, what's the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection?
What's the Difference Between a Bacterial Infection and a Viral Infection?
Viral infections are caused by viruses like the cold virus or the coronavirus. These are the main causes of sinus infections. You can spread viruses to other people through contact, the air, or by droplets spread by coughing, sneezing, and even breathing or talking. The best treatment for viral sinus infections is plenty of rest and fluids, as well as to get your vaccines for COVID-19. Your immune system will be hard at work fighting the infection, so most often, your body just needs to rest and allow things to run their course.
Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, such as streptococcus, E. coli, or staphylococcus. These bacteria give off toxins that make you sick and cause infections. 
Antibiotics are the most common treatment for bacterial infections because they specifically target and kill bacteria in your body. However, antibiotics kill both bad and good bacteria alike. In time, these bacteria can develop a resistance to the antibiotics, making infections harder to treat. That's why it's important to be careful when you take antibiotics for a bacterial sinus infection.
Nowadays thanks to the pandemic, being sick may hit a little differently than it used to.
How COVID-19 Has Affected How We Perceive Illness
Has this ever happened to you? In our post-quarantine world, you go out to do some shopping when you get that familiar tickle in your nose or your throat. Then that's when it happens— you cough or sneeze, and the tickle is thankfully gone. Even though it only lasted for a moment, you now see that everyone around you has reacted in some way. Maybe they shuffle away in an effort to social distance, or maybe they just uncomfortably stare at you, hoping you won't get them sick.
Even if your body is reacting to something as relatively innocuous as a dust allergy, it's hard to ignore how the pandemic has impacted how we collectively see symptoms we used to brush off or ignore.
Thanks to the pandemic, every sniffle, sneeze, and snuffle often comes with a sense of caution (or perhaps even paranoia) that maybe this time, your symptoms could be a sign of something much more severe.
While COVID-19 can share common symptoms with allergies or a cold, its most distinctive symptoms are not something you'll get with a cold or allergies. However, COVID-19 can share some of its more distinctive symptoms with the flu, such as shortness of breath, loss of taste/smell, or diarrhea. This is why it’s so important to get tested if you’re experiencing those symptoms.
Want to learn more about the difference between cold, allergy, and COVID-19 symptoms? Check out our article on the subject!
How To Tell If Your Viral Infection Is Contagious
You may think that the surefire way to know if you're contagious is whether or not you're symptomatic. While you're certainly contagious if you're symptomatic, it's not that simple.
Unfortunately, if you've caught the bug that's going around, you're contagious whether or not you're showing any symptoms.
When a virus like the common cold enters your system, it begins an incubation period. This is when the virus multiplies and spreads throughout your body. You are contagious during this period, even though you are not showing signs of illness.
You're even contagious after your symptoms have subsided. You may be feeling better, but it's still possible to spread your illness to others if you're not careful.
How Long Are Viral Infections Contagious?
How long you're contagious depends on the infection. Here are a few examples:
- The common cold: You are contagious between 1 and 4 days before your symptoms start and between 3 and 14 days from when your symptoms start. Finally, you're still contagious for one to two weeks after your symptoms subside. 
- Influenza (the flu): Like the common cold, you're contagious between 1 and 4 days before your symptoms start and between 3 and 14 days once you're symptomatic. You're also still contagious between one and two weeks after your symptoms disappear.
- COVID-19: You typically develop symptoms between 4 and 5 days after infection, but sometimes it can take as long as two weeks to show COVID-19 symptoms. You are most infectious during this timeframe. You're still contagious while you are symptomatic and can continue being contagious for nearly two weeks after your symptoms subside.
If you suspect you have COVID-19 or have tested positive, always follow the Center for Disease Control's guidelines for isolation.
And whether you're at risk of COVID-19 or just want to avoid spreading the sniffles, there are plenty of ways to curb the spread.
How to Limit the Spread of Illness
Thanks to the efforts of the CDC, you probably know exactly where we're going here. Don't worry, we'll keep it short.
Whether you're contagious or not, here are easy ways to help limit the spread of infections and disease:
- Wash your hands. Don't rely on hand sanitizer alone! Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds every time you use the bathroom, handle food, or interact with people who may be ill.
- Wear a mask. Yeah, we know that you're tired of masking up by now. But the science speaks for itself; a high-quality mask can not only help prevent the spread of your illness but can help prevent you from catching someone else's.
- Social distancing. Droplets carrying viruses can only travel so far. Keeping a distance of six feet or more between yourself and others can help prevent the spread of disease if someone is coughing or sneezing.
- Disinfect. This is especially important after you or a family member has been sick. Disinfecting your home or commonly touched objects like your cell phone can kill any lingering bacteria or viruses that can keep spreading the disease even after you've gotten well again.
- If you're sick, stay home. This is pretty self-explanatory. You need plenty of rest to help your body fight illness and recover. The best way to do this is to stay home and isolate.
- Use your elbow to cover your cough. Remember, coughing and sneezing can spread illness through airborne droplets expelled by your body. To prevent this, always remember to cough or sneeze into your elbow. This contains those pesky droplets and helps curb the spread.
Feeling Sniffly and Stuffed Up? Try SinuSonic!
While sinus infections themselves are not contagious, dealing with congestion can really drive you crazy. Don't worry, though— treating and preventing sinus infections is easier than you may think.
One of the best ways to do this is with SinuSonic. Our unique device combines gentle acoustic vibrations and light pressure to decongest your sinuses naturally. Need to blow your nose after you use the device? That's a sign that it's working!
And unlike treatment options like nasal spray, which can lose effectiveness over time, SinuSonic works better the more you use it. Consistent use can not only reduce nasal congestion naturally, but it can also help you breathe more efficiently over time
Is nasal congestion driving you crazy? Kick it to the curb with SinuSonic!
- "Bacterial Infections." MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/bacterialinfections.html.
- "How Long Am I Contagious? [Infographic]." Northwestern Medicine, Dec. 2021, www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/how-long-am-i-contagious.