What’s the difference between sinusitis and allergic rhinitis?
There is significant overlap between sinusitis and allergic rhinitis so, to help you distinguish between each one, this blog covers:
- What is allergic rhinitis?
- What is sinusitis?
- Similarities and differences between these conditions
- Treatments for each
- Who is most likely to suffer from both allergic rhinitis and sinusitis?
What is allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens like pollen or animal dander.
A chemical called histamine is released which can lead to an array of symptoms like itchy eyes, a sore throat and a runny nose. It also prompts the mucous membranes to produce more mucus in order to trap and wash out allergens. In addition, the presence of histamine causes the body to increase blood flow to certain areas of the skin, thus promoting inflammation.
If you breathe allergens in, it can also cause the sinuses to become inflamed and painful.
Key features of allergic rhinitis include:
- Symptoms that regularly come and go
- Symptoms that only develop at certain times of the year
- Occurs after contact with an allergen
- Irritated and watery eyes.
What is sinusitis?
Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become swollen, usually as the result of a viral or bacterial infection. Swelling causes mucus and pressure to build, thus preventing mucus from being drained properly. This can cause a blocked nose, as well as other symptoms including headaches and fever.
There are two pairs of sinuses, both of which can become infected. This can be a recurrent or temporary issue - as the result of a cold or flu, for example, or an allergy.
Key features of sinusitis include:
- Thick mucus that is yellow or green in colour
- Pressure, swelling and discomfort around the forehead, eyes and cheeks
Allergic rhinitis vs sinusitis
Sinusitis and allergic rhinitis have a few things in common so it can be difficult to distinguish which you may be suffering from. Here, I have outlined the similarities and differences to make this slightly clearer.
- Both problems can cause a runny nose, sneezing, painful sinuses and pressure in the sinuses.
- Both cause swelling in the nasal passages, resulting in congestion.
- Reduced sense of taste and smell is also common to both.
- Allergies appear with changes in the seasons or without warning.
- Sinusitis usually follows a cold or viral infection.
- Each condition can require slightly different treatments.
Can allergies cause sinusitis?
In some cases, allergies can trigger a sinus infection. This is because the body's reaction to an allergen can cause the sinuses to swell, thus meaning bacteria or pathogens become trapped and trigger an infection.
Who’s most a risk?
Menopausal women can be more at risk of allergies and sinusitis as they tend to have thinner, drier mucous membranes.
Pollution is also known to make allergic rhinitis more likely and more severe. This means city-dwellers, who are exposed to more pollutants and irritants, could be more likely to experience both problems.
Other than this, anyone with high histamine production or a history of respiratory tract infections are at risk of allergic rhinitis and sinusitis symptoms.
There is some overlap in terms of treatments for these conditions, as well as a few distinct differences.
- Stay hydrated.
- Try steam inhalation to unblock the sinuses and reduce inflammation and infection risk.
- Use decongestant nasal spray as prescribed by your pharmacist.
- Use antihistamines to block histamine production.
- Avoid contact with allergens by washing bedding regularly, for example, and wearing sunglasses outdoors.
- Put some Bioforce Cream around the nose – this is healing, soothing and stops pollen and other allergens from getting in the nose.
- A steroid spray may be prescribed by a doctor or pharmacist to reduce swelling.
- Nasal strips can relieve some pressure in the sinuses.
- Rest is essential when suffering from a virus.
- Painkillers can ease headaches and pain in the sinuses.
If concerned about either of these issues, ask your doctor for advice. It is important you don't self-diagnose so you can find the most effective treatment as quickly as possible.
You should also see a doctor if symptoms haven't improved after a week, if symptoms get worse or if medications/treatments don't work.