Sinusitis (sinus infection) is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The root cause of most sinus infections is viral or bacterial. However, allergies and structural abnormalities are also common sources of many sinus infections.
This type of infection can have a variety of symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate between sinusitis and the common cold. In this article, we will explore the nature of sinusitis, how it spreads, and the signs and symptoms that can help you identify it.
What is Sinusitis?
Sinusitis is inflammation of the tissues that line the sinuses, the air-filled cavities located within the bones of the skull. These cavities have a thin layer of mucus that helps to trap and remove bacteria, viruses, and other particles from the air we breathe. When the sinuses become inflamed or infected, they can swell and produce excess mucus, leading to the characteristic symptoms of sinusitis.
Sinus infections can be acute, subacute, or chronic. Acute sinusitis typically lasts for less than four weeks and is often caused by a virus, such as the common cold. Chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, lasts for more than 12 weeks and can be triggered by a variety of things, including allergies, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum. Subacute falls into the middle range of duration (4 to 12 weeks).
Is Sinusitis Contagious?
Sinusitis itself is not contagious. However, the underlying causes of sinusitis can be contagious. Viral infections, such as the common cold, are a common cause of acute sinusitis. In this case, the virus can spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Bacteria, such as streptococcus pneumoniae can also cause sinusitis and can be spread through close contact with infected individuals or contaminated objects. However, if the sinusitis is caused by allergies or nasal polyps, it is not contagious.
While the sinusitis itself may not always be contagious, the symptoms can still be similar to those of a contagious respiratory infection. As such, it is wise to practice good hygiene and take precautions to prevent the spread of germs, regardless of the cause.
Signs and Symptoms of Sinusitis
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sinusitis can help you determine whether you’re dealing with a sinus infection or a common cold. Some of the most common symptoms of sinusitis include:
Pressure and Pain in the Face
Inflammation of the sinus tissues can cause facial pain or pressure, particularly around the eyes, nose, and forehead. The discomfort might be mild, or severe enough to interfere with daily activities. Also, the sinus pressure may worsen when you bend over or lie down.
Congestion and Runny Nose
Inflammation of the sinuses can lead to nasal congestion, making it difficult to breathe through your nose. You may also experience a runny nose with thick, discolored mucus.
Excess mucus produced by the sinuses can drip down the back of your throat, causing a sensation known as a postnasal drip. This can lead to a persistent cough, sore throat, and a feeling of needing to clear your throat frequently.
Sinusitis can cause a cough, which may be worse at night or when lying down due to the postnasal drip. In addition to postnasal drip, the inflammation in the sinuses can cause swelling and irritation of the airways, which can lead to coughing as the body tries to clear the airways.
Toothache or Jaw Pain
Sinusitis can sometimes cause toothache or jaw pain due to the proximity of the sinus cavities to the teeth and jaw. The inflammation and pressure from sinus congestion can irritate the nerves in the area, leading to discomfort in the teeth or jaw.
Fever and Headaches
Sinusitis can also cause fever and headaches, particularly if the infection is severe. A fever is the body’s natural response to an infection, and headaches can result from the inflammation and pressure within the sinus cavities. If you’re experiencing fever and headaches along with other sinusitis symptoms, seek medical advice to determine the best course of treatment.
How is Sinusitis Treated?
Treatment for sinusitis depends on the severity and underlying cause of the infection.
The typical treatment for a viral sinus infection focuses on relieving symptoms and allowing the body to fight off the infection on its own. Over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, and saline nasal spray can temporarily relieve sinus pressure, congestion, and postnasal drip.
However, you may be prescribed an antibiotic to help clear bacterial sinusitis. It’s essential to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your symptoms improve before the medication is finished.
For chronic sinusitis, identifying and treating the underlying cause, such as allergies or nasal polyps, is important. This may include allergy medications, nasal corticosteroids, immunotherapy, or even surgery in some cases.
It’s important to consult with a qualified healthcare professional, such as the board-certified specialists at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy, to determine the best course of treatment for your specific case of sinusitis.
How to Prevent the Spread of Sinusitis
While not all cases of sinusitis are contagious, it’s essential to take precautions to prevent the spread of germs and minimize the risk of infection. Here are some tips to help prevent the spread of sinusitis:
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing: Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of used tissues in a lined trash can and wash your hands right away.
- Avoid close contact with sick individuals: If someone in your household is sick, try to maintain a safe distance to minimize the risk of catching the infection.
- Keep your environment clean: Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home, such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A strong immune system can help you fight off infections more effectively. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and manage stress to keep your immune system in top shape.
By following these preventive measures, you can help reduce the risk of developing sinusitis and prevent the spread of infections to others. If you suspect you may have sinusitis or have concerns about your chronic symptoms, please call the physicians at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy for guidance and treatment options.