Sinusitis or allergies? Find out about the symptoms, causes and treatments of these common medical conditions.

Sinusitis or allergy? Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of these common medical conditions.

Sinusitis and allergies are usually confused due to the similar symptoms they present, such as congestion, sneezing and nasal secretion. However, understanding the key differences between these conditions is crucial for effective treatment and control.

When it comes to sinuses, or sinusitis infections, the main cause is a bacterial or viral infection that causes inflammation and swelling of sinus cavities. This can lead to mucus drainage obstruction, which leads to an accumulation of liquid and pressure in the sinuses. On the other hand, allergies are a response of the immune system triggered by exposure to specific allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dandruff.

Paranasal sinuses infection (sinusitis): inflammation of sinus cavities caused by bacterial or viral infection.

  1. Common symptoms of sinus infection:
    • Nasal congestion
    • Pain or facial pressure
    • Headache
    • Yellow or green thick nasal secretion
  2. Common symptoms of allergies:
    • Sneezing
    • Nasal drip
    • Ichor or eye tears
    • Throat or ears

While sinus infections are usually treated with antibiotics to eliminate infection, allergies are treated through various methods destined to reduce allergic reactions. These methods usually include avoiding triggers, taking antihistamines or starting immunotherapy to create specific allergen tolerance. Consulting a health professional is crucial to obtain an accurate diagnosis and an adequate treatment plan, since both sinus infections and allergies can cause discomfort and significantly affect the quality of life.

Sinus Infection or Allergies: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to sinus infections, also known as sinusitis, the condition is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the sinuses. The paranasal sinuses are hollow cavities located behind the face and forehead that produce mucus to keep the nasal ducts wet. Infections occur when these breasts are inflamed and block normal mucus flow, which causes an accumulation of bacteria or viruses. Sinus infections can cause symptoms such as pain or facial pressure, nasal congestion, thick nasal secretion of yellow or green and decreased smelling.

Important information:

  • Sinus infections are usually accompanied by pain or facial pressure, while allergies do not usually cause these symptoms.
  • Nasal secretion in sinus infections is usually thick, yellow or green, while in allergies it is usually clear and aqueous.
  • Sinus infections can cause a decrease in the sense of smell, which is not a typical symptom of allergies.

On the other hand, allergies occur when the immune system reacts exaggeratedly to a substance that is normally harmless, known as allergen. The most common allergens are pollen, domestic animals, dust mites and some foods. When exposed to an allergen, the immune system releases chemical substances that cause symptoms such as sneezing, itching, nasal secretion and crying eyes. Unlike sinus infections, allergies do not usually cause pain or facial pressure, and nasal secretion is usually clear and aqueous. It is also important to note that allergies can trigger asthma symptoms in asthmatic people, while sinus infections do not usually affect the airways.

Although some symptoms of sinus infections and allergies may coincide, pay attention to the specific characteristics of symptoms can help determine whether it is a sinus infection or an allergy. Consultation with a healthcare professional can provide adequate diagnosis and guide the most appropriate therapeutic approach.

Understanding Sinus Infections


  1. Upper respiratory paths infections: sinus infections usually occur as a result of a common cold or viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system. Viruses responsible for these infections can cause inflammation in the sinuses.
  2. Allergies: allergic reactions to environmental triggers such as pollen, dust mites or pet dandruff can also cause sinusitis. The body’s immune response to these allergens can cause inflammation of the sinuses.
  3. Nasal polyps: Grows in the sinuses lining, known as nasal polyps, can obstruct nasal ducts and increase the risk of developing a sinus infection. These polyps are usually associated with chronic inflammation.

Sinus infections may be due to various factors, such as high respiratory, allergies and nasal polyps infections.


  • Pain or facial pressure: sinus infections usually cause discomfort in the face, especially around the eyes, forehead and cheeks.
  • Headaches: persistent headaches, especially on the front of the head, can indicate a sinus infection.
  • Nasal congestion: inflammation of the sinuses can cause nasal congestion, making breathing difficult.
  • Thick, discolored mucus: Sinus infections can produce yellow or green mucus, which may indicate the presence of an infection.

Among the most common symptoms of sinus infections are facial pain, headaches, nasal congestion, and the presence of thick, discolored mucus.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of sinus infections is essential for timely treatment and relief. If symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Identifying Allergy Symptoms

Allergic Rhinitis Symptoms:

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is an allergic reaction that primarily affects the nasal passages. It is usually caused by airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it may indicate allergic rhinitis:

  • Sneezing: Frequent and repetitive sneezing.
  • Nasal congestion: A stuffy or stuffy nose that makes breathing difficult.
  • Runny nose: Excessive production of clear, watery mucus from the nose.
  • Itchy or watery eyes: Persistent itching or watering of the eyes.
  • Itchy throat or ears: Irritation or itchy sensation in the throat or ears.

Note: The symptoms of allergic rhinitis may also be accompanied by fatigue, frequent headaches, and impaired sleep quality.

Allergic Conjunctivitis Symptoms:

Allergic conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the eyes and eyelids. It is usually caused by allergens, such as pollen, mold, or pet dander. If you experience the following symptoms, it may be indicative of allergic conjunctivitis:

  1. Red, itchy and swollen eyes: The eyes appear red, irritated and may be accompanied by itching.
  2. Excessive tearing: The eyes produce excessive tears in response to allergens.
  3. Burning or stinging sensation: The eyes may feel a burning or stinging sensation due to inflammation.
  4. Light sensitivity: The eyes may become more sensitive to light than usual.

Distinguishing Between Sinus Infection and Allergy Symptoms

Allergy symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion: Allergies often cause nasal congestion or blockage due to inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages.
  • Sneezing: Frequent and repetitive sneezing is a common symptom of allergies, triggered by the release of histamines in response to allergens.
  • Itchy or watery eyes: Irritation and itching in the eyes, along with watery discharge, are often associated with allergic reactions.
  • Itchy throat or ears: Allergies can also cause an itchy throat and ears, with a persistent urge to scratch.
  • Seasonal patterns: Allergies tend to be seasonal, with symptoms worsening during specific times of year when certain allergens are prevalent, such as pollen allergies during the spring.

It is important to note that allergies do not cause a high fever or a green or yellow runny nose. If these symptoms are present, it may be indicative of a sinus infection rather than an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of sinus infection:

  1. Pain and pressure in the face: Sinus infections often cause pain and pressure in the face, especially around the cheeks, forehead, and eyes.
  2. Thick, yellow or green nasal discharge: Unlike allergies, sinus infections are characterized by the production of colored mucus, which indicates the presence of infection.
  3. Headache: Persistent headaches, especially in the frontal region, are a common symptom of sinus infections.
  4. Cough: While allergies rarely cause cough, sinus infections can cause a persistent cough, often worse at night.
  5. Fever: When there is a bacterial infection of the paranasal sinuses, it is common to experience a low fever.

If symptoms last more than 10 days or worsen after initial improvement, it is advisable to seek medical attention, as it may indicate a sinus infection rather than allergies.

Symptom Allergies sinus infection
Nasal congestion
Itchy or watery eyes
Itchy throat or ears
Seasonal patterns
Facial pain and pressure
Thick, yellow or green nasal discharge

Causes and Triggers of Sinus Infections

1. Viral infections: One of the main causes of sinus infections is viral infections. These infections are commonly associated with the common cold or flu, which lead to inflammation of the sinuses. Viruses can enter the sinuses and cause congestion, leading to the development of a sinus infection.

  • Cold and flu viruses can cause inflammation of the sinuses.
  • The viral infection can cause congestion and obstruction of the sinuses.
  • This congestion creates a favorable environment for bacterial growth, leading to a sinus infection.

2. Allergic reactions: Allergies can also trigger sinus infections in susceptible individuals. When an allergic reaction occurs, the immune system releases chemicals that cause swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages. This inflammation can block the sinuses and promote the development of a sinus infection.

  1. Allergies can trigger an immune response in the nasal passages.
  2. Swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages can block the sinuses.
  3. Paranasal breasts can cause mucus accumulation and proliferation of bacteria, leading to sinus infection.

3. Environmental irritants: exposure to certain environmental irritants can also cause or aggravate sinus infections. These irritants include pollutants, dust, smoke and strong chemicals. Inhalation of these substances can irritate the nostrils and trigger an inflammation, increasing the risk of developing a sinus infection.

Environmental Irritants: Effects in the sinuses:
Pollutants, dust and smoke They irritate and inflame the nostrils, causing sinusitis.
Strong chemicals and fumes They can cause irritation and inflammation in the sinuses

Common Allergens That Cause Allergic Reactions

  1. Pollen: trees pollen, grasses and weeds can trigger seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis. Common plants such as ambrosia, birch, oak and grasses release pollen particles, which can cause symptoms such as sneezing, eye and congestion. The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the sensitivity of the individual and the amount of pollen in the air.
  2. Dust mites: These microscopic creatures are found in all interior spaces, especially in bedding, carpets and upholstery. Miter allergens are their waste products and, when inhaled, they can cause allergic reactions. Symptoms may include sneezing, sibilant breathing, cough and nasal secretion or congestion. Minimizing exposure to dust mites through regular cleaning and the use of antiallergic covers can help relieve symptoms.
  3. Moho: The mold spores are present both indoors and outdoors. They thrive in humid environments, such as bathrooms, basements and kitchens. The inhalation of mold spores can cause allergic reactions, triggering symptoms such as congestion, hechor of eyes and respiratory problems. People allergic to mold must take precautions, such as using dehumidifiers and periodically inspect and eliminate the mold.
  4. Domestic animal dandruff: pet allergens are protein found in saliva, urine and skin scales of animals, especially cats and dogs. These allergens can be transmitted through the air and cause allergic reactions. Symptoms may include sneezing, itching, urticaria and even difficulty breathing in severe cases. Avoiding direct contact with pets, keeping them out of the bedroom and using air purifiers can help reduce exposure to pet dandruff.
  5. Food: Certain foods can trigger allergic reactions in susceptible people. The most common food allergens are peanuts, nuts, dairy products, eggs, seafood, fish, wheat and soy. Food allergies can cause various symptoms, from minor reactions such as urticaria and itching to severe and potentially deadly anaphylaxis. If you suspect that it suffers from food allergy, it is important that you undergo medical evaluation and possibly allergy tests to obtain accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Knowing allergen sources and taking appropriate measures to minimize exposure can significantly improve the quality of life of allergic people. If you experience persistent allergic symptoms, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional to obtain adequate diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options for Sinus Infections and Allergies

For sinus infections: when it comes to a sinus infection, the main objective is to relieve underlying infection and reduce inflammation. A healthcare professional can prescribe antibiotics to combat bacterial infections causing sinusitis. Free sales analgesics, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and reduce fever. Decongessing nasal sprays can also be recommended to reduce congestion and open sinus ducts.

  • Use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.
  • Take analgesics without recipe to relieve pain and fever.
  • Consider the use of decongestant nasal aerosols to reduce congestion.

Note: It is important to complete the complete treatment of prescribed antibiotics to ensure effective treatment and prevent the development of antibiotic resistance.

For allergies: in the case of allergies, the main objective is to minimize exposure to allergens and control the allergic response of the organism. Free sales antihistamines can help reduce symptoms such as sneezing, itching and nasal secretion. Nasal aerosols with corticosteroids can be recommended to reduce inflammation of nostrils and relieve congestion. Antiallergic vaccines, or immunotherapy, can also be considered for people with serious allergies or who do not respond well to other treatments.

  1. Take antihistamines without a recipe to relieve allergy symptoms.
  2. Consider the use of nasal corticosteroid aerosols to reduce inflammation of nostrils.
  3. Explore antiallergic vaccines (immunotherapy) in case of serious or poor response allergies to other treatments.

Caution: Always consult a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or medication, especially if you have an illness or are taking other medications.

Treatment options for sinus infections Treatment options for allergies
Antibiotics Antihistamines
Pain relievers (paracetamol, ibuprofen) Nasal sprays with corticosteroids
Decongestant nasal sprays Anti-allergy injections (immunotherapy)

Preventing Sinus Infections and Allergies: Tips and Recommendations

1. Keep your home clean and free of allergens: Regularly dust, vacuum, and sweep your home to remove dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and other potential allergens. Pay special attention to areas where these allergens accumulate, such as carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture. Consider using allergy-free covers on bedding and pillows.

  • Dust surfaces regularly using a damp cloth to prevent dust particles from becoming airborne.
  • Vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to effectively trap allergens.
  • Wash bedding frequently in hot water to remove dust mites.

Note: Keeping your living environment clean is crucial to reducing exposure to common allergens. It can help relieve symptoms and prevent sinus infections or allergies from developing.

2. Maintain good indoor air quality: Poor air quality can aggravate sinusitis and allergy symptoms. Promote good ventilation in your home by opening windows whenever possible. Use air purifiers or filters to remove pollutants and allergens from the air. Consider installing a humidifier in dry environments to keep your nasal passages moist and reduce the risk of sinus complications.

  1. Avoid smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke, as it can irritate the sinuses and worsen allergies.
  2. Change air filters regularly to ensure proper functioning and filtering of air contaminants.
  3. Maintain humidity levels between 30 and 50% to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Tip: Clean, fresh air is essential for keeping your sinuses healthy and preventing allergies. Ensure your living and work spaces have optimal air circulation and avoid tobacco smoke as much as possible.

Author of the article
Dr.Greenblatt M.
Dr.Greenblatt M.
Medical oncologist at the Robert Larner College of Medicine, MD, at the University of Vermont

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