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Is It An Allergy Or A Sinus Infection?

Is It An Allergy Or A Sinus Infection?

The change of weather or the onset of the cold weather is known to give rise to a whole series of problems for those who suffer from sinus infections and/or allergies.

Both these conditions make a person feel miserable. There is a lot of confusion between these two conditions as often the symptoms of these conditions are very similar. Even though the symptoms may be similar, the conditions, though, are not the same. Allergies happen due to the reaction of your immune system to some allergens in the environment, while a sinus infection occurs because the nasal passages become infected. There are certain symptoms that differ between each of these conditions, and both have different causes as well. It is important that you understand the differences between a sinus infection and allergies; so that you can seek the appropriate treatment for getting relief. So let us explore how to identify whether it is an allergy or a sinus infection?

Is It An Allergy Or A Sinus Infection?

Allergies Vs Sinus Infection – Exploring the Differences

It is possible to develop an allergy at any point in life. While most allergies generally come up during childhood, it is possible for people to develop a new allergy as an adult as well. An allergic reaction to a new substance is typically caused by the immune system reacting negatively to a new substance.(1,2)

The immune system reacts to this substance by releasing a chemical known as histamine (3,4) Histamine causes your usual allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, headaches and congestion.(5) Many people also develop a rash on their skin and start to feel foggy.

In severe cases of allergies, people can develop a condition that is similar to the common cold and is known as allergic rhinitis. When you have allergic rhinitis, you may experience the above-mentioned symptoms, and also have itchy eyes. The itchiness of the eyes is also the major symptom that distinguishes an allergy from sinusitis.(6)

On the other hand, when you have a sinus infection, your nasal passages become inflamed. This condition is mostly caused by viruses instead of environmental triggers. In a sinus infection, once the nasal passages become inflamed, mucus starts to build up and becomes stuck, which further complicates the issue.(6)

Apart from a headache and nasal congestion, a sinus infection can cause you to feel pain around your eyes and cheeks, and also cause you to have bad breath.(7) You will also notice that you have thick and discolored mucus.(7)

Allergies Vs Sinus Infection – Comparing the Symptoms

In order to understand where you are suffering from a sinus infection or you have allergies, it is best to compare their symptoms. Keep in mind that it is also possible to have both the conditions at one time.Allergies Vs Sinus InfectionApart from these differentiating factors, overall symptoms of allergies will include (8)

If you have a sinus infection, then apart from a stuffy nose, you may also experience (8)

  • A headache
  • Pain in your teeth
  • Thick and colored mucus
  • Pain and a swollen feeling around the eyes, cheeks and the forehead
  • Post-nasal drip, in which the mucus moves into your throat from the back of your nose
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • A sore throat
  • A cough
  • Fever

It is always best to consult your doctor and describe your symptoms properly so that your doctor can diagnose your condition correctly.

Allergies Vs Sinus Infection – Comparing the Causes

When you suffer from either a sinus infection or allergies, your nose becomes blocked and stuffy. However, it happens in both these conditions due to different reasons.
When you have allergies, the nasal passages and your sinus become inflamed, as they are trying to flush out the allergens that are irritating your immune system.(7) On the other hand, during a sinus infection, the nose becomes stuff because of a cold or even because of an allergy. In some cases, a sinus infection can also be caused by bacteria.

In both the allergy and common cold, your sinuses and nose become inflamed. This blocks the mucus from draining, causing an infection as well as pressure and pain.

When you suffer from allergies, it is also likely that you will end up having sinus problems because the inside of your nasal cavity and your sinuses often get inflamed together when you breathe in the allergens.(7)

Allergies Vs Sinus Infection – Differences Based on the Treatments

There are many similarities and also differences in the treatments of allergies and sinus infections. If you are suffering from severe congestion from either of these two conditions, then you can opt for taking an over-the-counter (OTC) or even prescript-based decongestants.(6) This will help break down the mucus present in the nasal passages.

The primary treatment for allergies is with the help of antihistamines.(6) Antihistamines help block the histamine-producing response of your immune system, which happens every time you come across an allergen. With the regular use of antihistamines, you will experience relief in your symptoms.

Antihistamines, such as Benadryl, provide short-term relief, while for severe allergies or for chronic allergies, you will benefit from trying out daily treatments, such as Claritin or Zyrtec. There are some antihistamines that also have an added decongestant in them, providing relief from a stuffy nose as well.

However, keep in mind that medications for treating allergies will not get rid of the symptoms of a sinus infection. The best way for getting relief from sinusitis includes:(9)

  • Resting as much as possible
  • Using a saline nasal spray for hydrating the nasal passages
  • Drinking lots of fluids, particularly water and broth
  • Continue with your allergy medications if you were taking them previously

If your sinus infection is caused by a virus, then you will not experience any relief by taking antibiotics. Your doctor will only prescribe an antibiotic if he/she believes that your sinusitis is caused by bacteria. Remember that you will need to complete the full prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you start feeling relief after a day or two of taking the medication.

Allergies Vs Sinus Infection – Can They Be Prevented?

It is possible to prevent a sinus infection in the same manner that you follow to prevent catching a common cold or flu viruses. Staying hydrated and getting a good amount of sleep is required to prevent sinusitis, especially in the cold and flu season. Taking supplements of vitamin C, with prior consultation with your doctor, of course, will also help activate your immune system, keeping infections at bay. Frequently washing your hands is also important,

When it comes to preventing allergies; though, it is a bit difficult to prevent them but not impossible. This is because you may not even be aware of the allergens present in a particular environment. However, it does help if you are aware of the substances you are allergic to so that you can avoid exposure as much as possible and hence prevent your allergy. For example, if you know that you have a seasonal allergy to pollen, then avoid going outside when the pollen count is going to be the highest. Also, wash your hair after returning from outside and before going to bed. Also, try to keep the windows closed when pollen counts are known to be at their highest.

If you suffer from dust mite allergies, then have a schedule for weekly house cleaning and washing the bedding. For pet dander allergies, do not allow your pet to get up on the bed and wash your hands after you pet them or be careful of not to touch your face after petting them.

Treating the symptoms of allergy will help you stop them from getting out of control.

In the same manner, identifying that you are having a sinus infection and getting medical assistance at the right time will also prevent it from getting worse.

You can always ask your doctor for recommendations on other preventive measures that you can take for your allergies and for sinusitis as well.


Both the conditions of a sinus infection and allergies have similar symptoms. One of the key differences between both conditions is the itchiness of the eyes and skin. Itchiness occurs in allergies, but is not observed in sinusitis. Whenever you are in doubt, the best recommendation is to always consult your doctor so that you can prevent your symptoms from getting worse.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 25, 2022

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