Nasal symptoms affect millions of Americans all the time. But is it allergies or sinus infection? What's the difference? How does it matter?
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is an allergic response to pollen or other microscopic particles or organisms. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny nose
Colds or flu may cause some of these same symptoms, but are usually accompanied by fever, sore throat, and body aches. Colds typically last about seven days, then go away. But with allergies, symptoms last longer. And allergy symptoms occur in a predictable pattern: The symptoms of allergies tend to be present when pollen counts are high, and go away when they are lower.
Sinus infection (sinusitis) is inflammation of one or more of the sinus cavities in the skull. Sinuses have small openings into the nasal cavity and are normally just filled with air, but when they become blocked and filled with fluid, they become a breeding ground for germs that cause an infection. These can include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Based on the length of time symptoms are present, sinusitis is classified as acute, chronic, or recurrent
In acute sinusitis, the primary symptoms last about 7-28 days and include:
- Facial pain / pressure
- Nasal stuffiness
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of smell
- Cough / congestion
Additional symptoms may include:
- Bad breath
- Teeth pain
A health care professional will make a diagnosis of acute sinusitis when a person has two or more symptoms and / or thick, green, or yellow nasal discharge. Treatment for allergies is usually symptomatic. These include medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal corticosteroids. Antibiotics are not needed. Non-medicinal remedies such as nasal irrigation has been proven helpful as well.
People with chronic sinusitis may have the following symptoms for 8 weeks or more:
- Facial congestion / fullness
- A nasal obstruction / blockage
- Pus in the nasal cavity
- Nasal discharge / discolored postnasal drainage
Additional symptoms of chronic sinusitis may include:
- Bad breath
- Teeth pain
A physician may treat sinusitis with symptomatic medication or antibiotics in severe cases. Overuse of antibiotics has lead physicians to be more reserved in prescribing antibiotics. Nasal irrigation has been proven effective, as well, in helping to relieve the symptoms of sinusitis and maintain nasal health.
One Condition May Lead to Another
It is not uncommon for allergies to lead to sinusitis. Nasal allergies cause swelling of the lining of the nasal passages, which can lead to a blocked sinus. Sinus infection can then develop because of the blockage.
Nasal allergies and sinusitis affect the body in different ways and are treated differently, so it is important to know the difference.