Is it Allergies or a Sinus Infection?

How do you know if you have allergies or a sinus infection that just won’t go away?

Allergic rhinitis is a condition the results in swelling and irritation in the nose due to something that one is sensitive to in their environment, whereas a sinus infection is usually due to a virus or bacteria, instead of pollen, dust, or other allergen. The symptoms can be similar between these two conditions.

The following will give you some clues to give you a clearer understanding of which you might be dealing with.  Sometimes you might actually be dealing with both, as untreated allergies can lead to prolonged or frequent sinus infections.

Here is a patient’s story that you may be able to relate to:

A woman in her mid 30’s notices that for the past few years, she seems to have a stuffy nose, sneezing, headache, fatigue, and cough for most of the year. When her symptoms get worse at different times of the year she usually goes to her doctor and is told that she probably has a sinus infection or a bad cold and is given antibiotics. After completing the antibiotic she feels a little better, but after a few weeks the symptoms seem to come back. She does not want to continue taking antibiotics so frequently especially if she is not sure she needs them. A friend who has allergies mentioned that she has similar symptoms but they happen only in the springtime and she began to wonder if allergies might be causing her issues too.

The symptoms of allergic rhinitis and sinus infections can be quite similar, but there are some key differences to know below:

Her story continues and she reveals that she got a cat in her home about 3 years ago and her symptoms started a few months afterwards.  She also noticed that when she travelled away from home that her symptoms seemed to go away, but would come back within a few days of being home. Allergy testing showed that she was allergic to her cat and several other allergens. She was treated for her allergies and her symptoms improved.

In the individual’s story above, allergy was the cause of her problems. However many of her symptoms could have been easily confused with symptoms of a sinus infection, so it ‘s important to consider other options when you do not seem to be improving with antibiotics or if your symptoms seem to come back often.  

As you are your own best detective, consider the timing of your symptoms, any other symptoms that seem to occur around the same time, and what response you have had with treatments you have already tried.  If your symptoms are relatively new, consider what things have changed in your environment or with your health in general. Also keep in mind that even in the absence of allergies, getting sick too often or having a cold or sinus infection that just wont go away is a reason to see your doctor sooner than later.

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