Sinus Infection vs. Allergies: Understanding the Difference for Better Health

sinus infections vs allergies understanding the difference for better health

Many people confuse sinus infections with allergies because both conditions cause nasal symptoms.

However, each condition has unique symptoms. Understanding how both affect you can help determine what kind of care you need.

Understanding the symptoms also allows CHRISTUS Health's virtual care clinicians to accurately diagnose you during a video visit.

With allergy season coming up for many in Texas and Louisiana, it is important to know the difference between them.

“To determine if a patient has a sinus infection, they need to see if their symptoms last 10 days or more,” said Robin Stewart, a CHRISTUS Health clinician who sees patients virtually with On Demand Care.

“Otherwise, it could actually be allergies or a viral infection.”


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Allergy Symptoms

Signs of allergies are often linked to post-nasal drainage that can cause the following symptoms:

  • clear, watery eyes
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • cough

These symptoms generally appear suddenly and can last a few days to a week.

Sinus Infection Symptoms

Sinus infections, which usually take at least 10 days to develop, cause distinct symptoms, including:

  • Intense nasal drainage: More pronounced than allergies, often thicker and sometimes colored.
  • Face and forehead pain or pressure: Experienced in the maxillary sinus area of the cheeks and the frontal sinus area of the forehead.
  • Fatigue and feeling run-down: A general sense of tiredness and fatigue is common.
  • Low-grade fever: Some individuals may experience a mild fever.

These symptoms distinguish sinus infections from the more sudden and short-lived symptoms of allergies.

What Does Pressure From a Sinus Infection Feel Like?

Sinus Infections can cause pressure in your forehead and sides of your face. The frontal sinuses in your forehead above the eyebrows are just behind the forehead bones.

The maxillary sinuses are found in the cheek area below the eyes.

When these sinuses become inflamed or infected, it can lead to pain and pressure in these areas—often perceived as a headache or a heavy sensation in the forehead and aching or pressure in the cheeks.

These symptoms are typical of sinus infections and help differentiate them from allergies, which more commonly affect the nasal passages and can cause symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose.

How Treatment Options Differ for Both Conditions

Allergy Treatment

The first step to allergy management is prevention. Many patients are unsure what they are allergic to, even though they suffer from allergies annually.

Robin said that many people will say they have allergies, but they've never been to an allergist or an Ear Nose and Throat doctor to find out what they're allergic to.

"I think that's key. If you can avoid it, avoid it, or if you can't avoid it, at least you know the time of the year that you need to be on medicine," Robin said.

For example, if you are allergic during the springtime, which in Texas starts in early February or March, then you need to go ahead and take preventive action, Robin said.

Common over-the-counter treatments include:

  • Antihistamines: These medications relieve sneezing, itching, a runny nose, and watery eyes. They work by blocking the effects of histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction.
  • Decongestants: Helpful in reducing nasal congestion, decongestants can provide temporary relief from a blocked nose.
  • Nasal rinses: Rinses clear and remove mucus in the nasal passages.

Robin said she often likes to find out what patients are doing for treatment.

“A lot of patients just don't know simple over the counter medications like your allergy medicines, your nasal sprays, your neti pot rinses.”

Sinus Infection Treatments

Sinus infections, particularly those that are bacterial, may require a different approach:

  • Antibiotics: If your sinus infection is bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol can help alleviate the discomfort associated with sinus infections.
  • Decongestants: These can temporarily relieve nasal congestion but should be used cautiously and for a short duration to avoid potential side effects.
  • Nasal Rinses: Rinses help keep the nasal passages clean and can aid in clearing out mucus and allergens from the nasal cavity.

Remember, it's essential to consult with a health care professional to determine the nature of your sinus infection and the most appropriate treatment. On Demand Care clinicians at CHRISTUS Health can guide you through this process.

When Should You Seek Help for a Sinus Infection?

If a patient has been treating allergies with over-the-counter medication and it has been 10 days or more, it is probably time to seek treatment.

With a sinus infection, you will likely have thick green drainage, and either postnasal drainage, meaning drainage that drips down the back of your throat, or drainage out of your nose. You might cough up thick, green mucus, feel fatigued, or you may start feeling pain or pressure in your sinuses.

You can also develop a sinus infection after a viral infection.

“Let's say you've had a virus, like the common cold or even COVID-19 and it's been 10 days and you're not improving,” Robin said. “Then, it’s time to call On Demand Care.”


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