Allergies versus sinusitis

7 June 2023

What is sinusitis?

With runny noses, inflammation and congestion being common symptoms when suffering from both an allergy and a sinus infection, distinguishing the cause of these symptoms can be quite challenging. However, discerning between the two is important to know what to expect and what treatment to use. Fortunately, there are a few key differences to help you distinguish between an allergy and sinusitis.

Spot the difference

While allergies and sinus infections have very similar symptoms, they are two separate conditions that have distinct causes and treatments. So, what are the differences?

What is an allergy?

Allergies are extremely common in both adults and children. According to the Allergy Foundation of South Africa, approximately a third of South Africans will suffer from some allergic disease at some point in their lives. An allergy or allergic rhinitis can be described as an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is generally harmless. These substances are known as allergens and can be anything from pollen to dust mites and pet dander, and even certain foods. As soon as the allergen enters the body, the immune system releases specific chemicals (histamines) into the bloodstream and these chemicals cause symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, coughing and fatigue. Unlike sinus infections, allergies also cause itchy, watery eyes.

Antihistamines can help relieve the symptoms of an allergy by halting the release of histamine in the body and therefore, stop all the symptoms that this chemical causes.

What is a sinus infection?

Sinus infections or sinusitis occurs when there is inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, which are the four pairs of air-filled cavities located at the front of the skull that connect directly to the nasal passages. As the lining of the sinuses swell, it becomes more difficult for the mucus to move through the sinuses, affecting drainage of these areas, which can cause discomfort, congestion and pain. Sinus infections are usually caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Approximately 90% - 98% of colds, flu and sinusitis are caused by viruses, and produce symptoms like a runny nose, headache, congestion and coughing. A sinus infection can also cause thick yellow or green mucus in the nasal passages, which is not generally the case for allergic rhinitis. Most sinus infections are viral and therefore, clear up on their own in about a week or two. However, there are certain medications available that will help you get better faster, such as Sinupret. Sinupret is the no.1 prescribed colds, flu and sinusitis treatment by South African doctors. To find out more about Sinupret, click here.
Symptoms of allergies
Runny nose
Nasal congestion
Itchy, watery eyes
Symptoms of sinus infection
Runny nose
Nasal congestion
Thick yellow / green mucus
With the winter season already here, it is important to be able to distinguish between a sinus infection and an allergy as this can help you choose the best medication to treat your condition. Remember that it is also important to visit your healthcare provider for more information or if you are unsure of your symptoms.