For many people, the spring and fall season is the time to keep plenty of tissues and medication on hand. They have to prepare to treat symptoms such as runny and stuffy noses, itchy, watery eyes and headaches, just to name a few.

Allergies vs Sinusitis: Which is it?

The key to a speedy recovery and relief from these symptoms is choosing the appropriate course of treatment and knowing whether your symptoms are that of an allergy or sinusitis. Both conditions share similar symptoms, so it is easy to incorrectly self-diagnose one as the other and choose the wrong treatment option.

Do You Have Allergies?

An allergy is the body’s reaction to allergens such as bee venom, dust, medication, pet dander, pollen, ragweed and even some foods. Symptoms vary from one person to another and can range from mild to severe enough to be life-threatening. Runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, scratchy throat and itchy, puffy and watery eyes are common symptoms of allergies triggered by dust, pet dander and pollen.

Do You Have Sinusitis?

Sinusitis is an inflammation and swelling of the sinuses, which blocks drainage and causes mucus buildup. This makes breathing through the nose very difficult. You may also experience swelling around the eyes and in the face, as well as a throbbing headache or facial pain.

Unlike allergies, which are triggered by allergens, sinusitis may be caused by infection, nasal polyps or a deviated septum. Symptoms include yellow-green nasal discharge, tenderness around the eyes, cheeks or upper jaw, fever, fatigue or sore throat.

Allergy Treatment

Typically, your symptoms and certain tests can help doctors determine whether you have an allergy or sinusitis. It also helps if you can tell your doctor if there is a pattern as to when your allergies flare up and what triggers them.

Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine and/or a decongestant or nasal steroids. Allergy shots are another treatment option if medication does not help. Avoiding food or environmental allergens that trigger your allergies is a preventative measure against future flare ups.

Sinusitis Treatment

Some doctors may perform CT scans of the nasal passages to check for sinusitis, but the American College of Radiology recommends these only for patients with frequent or chronic sinusitis or patients who are considering sinus surgery.

Many patients are prescribed antibiotics for sinusitis, but according to medical experts, antibiotics may compound the problem. Sinus infections are caused by a viral infection, not a bacterial one. In addition, antibiotics have potential side effects.

The most effective treatment options:

  • Nasal drops or sprays containing oxymetazoline. Use no longer than three days. If nasal congestion persists, talk to your doctor.
  • Saline nasal irrigation
  • Drinking warm fluids or gargling with warm saltwater to relieve throat pain
  • Exposure to moist, warm air from a shower, bath or kettle loosens phlegm and soothes a sore throat.
  • Over the counter medications. Choose medications that target the symptoms you want to treat.

By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT