Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors
"Are sinus problems common in the winter?"
I only experience sinus infections in January. Why is this? I live in New York City and ride the subways a lot. Can sinus infections be contagious?
There are multiple reasons that sinus infections are more common during the cold, dry months of winter. First, it is important to know that they are commonly caused by viruses, though occasionally bacteria and fungi can also cause them. Just like other viral infections they are contagious.
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The reasons that they are more common in the winter are at least three-fold. First, during colder winter months people are more likely to spend time indoors and around others where contagious diseases are more easily spread. Second, and more importantly, mucous membranes are more likely to break down due to dry air or other illnesses, which creates easier portals of entry for the viruses in our nasal and and airway passages. And finally, other infections are also more common which weaken the body’s immune system increase the likelihood sinus infections. All of this creates a perfect storm of sorts for sinusitis. There are a number of things you can do to prevent these infections. First and most importantly wash your hands before eating, after using the restroom or after returning from public spaces. Another easy strategy you can use is to get a yearly flu shot, which won’t actually directly prevent a sinus infection, but will help prevent influenza and prevent the inflammation of the nasal passages caused by flu that makes it more likely to get a sinus infection. Finally, if you do come down with a head cold, drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier and taking decongestants can help prevent contracting sinusitis. You should talk with your primary care physician about more ways to prevent sinusitis. Good luck!
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