A sinus infection (sinusitis) occurs when your sinuses become inflamed due to infection. Most sinus infections are caused by a virus, but they can be caused by bacteria.
Similar symptoms to a sinus infection can also be caused by allergies, pollutants, an infected tooth, or fungal infections.
Usually, you can only spread your illness to others if it is caused by a contagious infection.
In this article, you will learn about the symptoms and treatment of sinus infections, how contagious they are, and if you should go to work when you have one.
The following information applies to adults.
Do I have a sinus infection?
You may have a sinus infection if you experience:
- a headache
- a blocked or runny nose
- pain, pressure or aching in your face (this may be felt in the forehead, cheeks or around the eyes and nose)
- a diminished sense of smell
- mucus running down your throat (post-nasal drip)
- sore throat
- a fever
- a cough
- smelly breath (halitosis)
- tiredness (fatigue)
Please see your doctor if you are concerned about your symptoms.
Are sinus infections contagious?
If your sinus infection develops from a viral infection like the cold or flu, you may be contagious to others.
You will not be able to pass on the sinus infection itself, but rather the virus that caused it. Another person may develop a sinus infection from this virus later on, but this does not always happen.
Sinus issues caused by allergies are not contagious.
Should I go to work with a sinus infection?
If you are suffering from a sinus infection caused by a virus, you may be worried that other people will catch your illness. To avoid this, stay at home until your symptoms have cleared.
This is a good idea if you work with individuals who are at greater risk of developing complications from certain illnesses. For example, the flu can become dangerous for elderly individuals, young children, and those with medical conditions like asthma or heart disease.
Alternatively, if you intend to go to work but want to help protect the people around you, wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of any used tissues immediately.
Sinus problems caused by allergies are not contagious, but it’s not always easy to tell what is causing your symptoms. If you are keen to prevent the spread of infection, exercise caution and stay at home.
If you feel unwell generally, you could stay at home to recover.
Check your work’s sick leave policy or ask your doctor if you are ever unsure.
What can I take for a sinus infection?
For most people, sinusitis should improve on its own over the course of 2 or 3 weeks. To help manage the symptoms of a sinus infection while you are recovering, you can:
- use a salt solution to clear out your nose
- apply a warm pack to the face to help relieve pain and decongest your sinuses
A doctor may advise taking painkillers, such as paracetamol, or another medication, like a nasal spray, to help relieve your symptoms. Speak to a pharmacist or doctor for further guidance before taking any medication.
You should also see a doctor if your sinus infection persists or starts to get worse despite taking these steps. They may recommend steroid nasal sprays or solutions to help with the swelling in your sinuses.
They may prescribe antihistamines if your symptoms are caused by an allergy or antibiotics if they suspect you have a sinus infection caused by bacteria.
When to worry
You should seek urgent medical attention if you:
- have a temperature of 38C or higher
- have severe symptoms
- have had several sinus infections
- haven’t had any relief from symptoms despite using non-prescription medicines
You should also seek medical attention if your symptoms have not improved over the course of a week.
It is possible to develop chronic sinusitis, a sinus infection lasting more than 12 weeks. See a doctor if you suspect you have chronic sinusitis. They can check for any underlying conditions and recommend appropriate treatment.
The symptoms of a sinus infection can be caused by many things, so it isn’t always easy to know if you are contagious. If you are worried about passing it on to others at work, consider staying at home until you feel better.
Viruses which cause sinus infections like the flu can make you quite unwell, so taking time off work to recover may be necessary.
Speak to a doctor if you're ever worried about your symptoms.