What is sinusitis? A sinus infection, also known as sinusitis, is a viral or bacterial infection of the sinuses, which are under the cheeks, nose, or forehead. This causes swelling and an overabundance of mucus, the universal signs of this infection.
Viral and Bacterial
Only viral sinusitis is contagious. However, bacterial sinusitis most often develops on top of an initial viral infection. The overflow of mucus and the sneezing, coughing, and nose-blowing allows bacteria to enter the nose and then the sinuses.
This kind of bacterial infection may occur during the period of viral infection. This may take 5 days with worsening symptoms or 10 days with persistent symptoms. Or it may in fact occur after the virus has already passed. This means it might be a good idea to get a checkup if flu-like symptoms return after a viral infection has been handled.
Up to 1/3 of patients may have bacterial infections, but it causes only 2% of acute cases.
Certain conditions can put someone at risk for a sinus infection. Aerial irritants (such as smoke, dust, or pollutants), allergic reactions, nasal fungus, or even irritating pool water can put someone at risk for a sinus infection.
Unfortunately, the symptoms are often quite ambiguous. However, reasonable suspicion of sinusitis can be caused by any combination of the following, especially if they are severe enough or last for a long enough time.
- Postnasal drip
- Discolored (greenish) nasal discharge
- Nasal stuffiness or congestion
- Tenderness of face about the sinuses
- Frontal headaches
- Pain in the teeth
- Bad breath
Are bacterial and viral symptoms different?
Not really, but it may be possible to make a good guess. The presence of pus in the mucus is the most effective sign of bacterial infection. Toothaches may also be indicative, as well as if decongestants fail to give relief. Blood tests may identify markers associated with bacterial infections. On the other hand, tender maxillary sinuses may indicate a viral infection.
However, always keep in mind that not one of these conditions is a guarantee of either kind of sinus infection.
How to Avoid Catching It
Of course, there’s the common hygienic advice to wash your hands, clean your surfaces, and so on. For bacterial infections, beware overruns antibiotics, as these may upset your immune system. Taking probiotics afterward may help it to balance out again. For sinusitis generally, you may want to take extra precautions. In particular, you may want to avoid smoky/polluted environments and swimming pools with chlorine, as these can cause reactions that enable infection.
And of course, a generally healthy lifestyle is the best assurance there is.
[ See also: How Stress Can Damage Your Health ]
How to Avoid Spreading It
Since only viral sinus infections are contagious, the solutions aren’t so straightforward. This is because viruses can’t be treated as easily as bacteria, as viruses aren’t living organisms and instead highjack host cells.
Other than isolation, there may be only one convenient helper.
Presently, of course, these are absolutely everywhere, but there’s still confusion about when masks are useful, when they aren’t, and which ones are best.
One study suggests that, in public settings, the minor protection offered by cloth masks may be useful. This may be because contact is brief and enough distance is kept. In this kind of setting, the risk of contagion may not be too high. For medical staff handling patients, they were useless.
This means that you might not be doing your family or friends any good by wearing a cloth mask. If you were to go in public, though, it may be a good idea.
There has been a lot of talk about the N95 mask. It’s suggested that it can prevent at least 95% of airborne particles from passing through. However, these are currently greatly-needed by medical staff, so the general public is recommended against using it.
Usage is the most important detail to keep in mind with all of this. If the mask is lowered regularly, it does very little good in any situation. In fact, without proper training, even N95 might be rendered ineffective.
Why It Matters Now
Very few people, of course, die from sinus infections. But now that COVID-19 is putting many at risk, it’s more important than ever to avoid spreading any illness. Guidelines and suggestions abound, but really it all boils down to what you and others touch or inhale.
If you have a viral sinus infection, follow every precaution possible to avoid spreading it. You will still want fresh air and exercise, but you will need to avoid physical interaction as much as you can.
This isn’t because sinus infections are particularly harmful. Any illness can weaken the immune system, and sometimes a small nudge is all that is needed.
Sinus infections are one of the common illnesses which might be too easily neglected, in times of peace and panic alike. That said, caution and common sense may be the most useful tools for combating it and any similar infection’s spread.