When our sinuses get congested, many of us assume it’s due to that dreaded condition: allergies. We think we can’t avoid them; we might take antihistamines in the hope that that will keep the pollen from attacking our sinuses, but it doesn’t always work.
What if it doesn’t work because you aren’t really having allergic reactions at all, but rather, experiencing sinusitis?
How would you know the difference? And what would you do about it, in either case?
Many people confuse the symptoms of allergies and sinus infections. They are similar, affecting the same general area of the body, but they are distinct. If you pay close attention to your symptoms, you may be able to get better control over your sinus problems.
Which is it?
Both allergies and sinusitis can involve congestion of the nose and breathing passages, and both may cause runny nose, excess mucus, etc. But there are differences:
Allergies are the immune system fighting off foreign objects called allergens. Upper respiratory allergies commonly involve:
- watery or itchy eyes;
- duration longer than a couple of weeks; and
- disappearing symptoms in certain seasons, or when you change things in your environment such as swapping a feather pillow for a synthetic-filled one
Sinusitis is usually caused by a viral infection, such as a cold. It may also be caused by other infections, such as bacteria. It often involves:
- pain behind the eyes, between the eyes, in the cheeks or forehead, or behind the teeth;
- loss of taste and smell;
- non-clear mucus; and
- constant fatigue
It makes a difference whether your symptoms are being caused by allergies, a virus, or bacteria, because the best treatment is different in all three cases. If you take cold decongestants for allergic reactions, for example, even though it may help in the short term, it will likely not be effective in the long term. If you take antibiotics for a cold, it will be ineffective, because a cold is caused by a virus and antibiotics don’t work on viruses. (They only work on bacterial infections.) To figure out the cause and determine the best course of treatment for your sinus symptoms, we don’t recommend self-diagnosing; talk to a doctor instead.
Seeing the doctor
If you have sinus symptoms and you’re not sure what’s causing them, it may be time to see an ear-nose-and-throat doctor, also known as an ENT. ENT doctors have extensive, specific knowledge and experience of the sinuses. They will ask questions and perform tests that will lead to diagnosis and treatment, helping you breathe easier at last. Talk to your doctor for more information.