GMC Blog

Allergies or Sinus Infection?

Addressing Common Confusion

When people experience congestion, stuffy or runny noses, they are quick to retrieve cold medicine or allergy medication. In general, people are fairly confident about diagnosing themselves in simple cases. A recent study revealed that while 70% of patients trust their doctor, only 13% actually go to see one when experiencing common symptoms.

However, while people are quick to identify allergies or a cold, many people may actually be suffering from a sinus infection—which are totally unaffected by cold or allergy treatment! The confusion between the two conditions has led to thousands of undiagnosed sinus infections (which are fairly simple to treat).

What Are Your Sinuses?

Sinuses are hollow chambers in your skull located behind your eyes and cheeks. They are lined with a membrane that acts as a filter for your breathing. The sinuses can accrue fluid, which allows bacteria, fungus, or viruses to infect the membrane—this is sinusitis, or a sinus infection.

Sinus infections keep fluid clogged in the sinus chambers, creating the familiar symptom of “sinus pressure.” Infections last between two to four weeks. Sinus infections can actually be caused by allergic reactions (which also keeps fluid in the sinus cavity), but will last for much longer than a normal reaction. That’s part of the reason people will confuse the two conditions.

What Are Allergies?

An allergy is a faulty immune system response that treats harmless substances like poisonous substances or foreign invaders. It can be developed at any time in life—essentially, it is caused when the immune system teaches itself to treat certain “pollutants” (like dog hair) as though they were harmful.

How Can You Tell the Difference?

While many symptoms overlap, and while some symptoms may be caused by the two different conditions simultaneously, there are a few symptoms that are tell-tale signs for each. Allergy symptoms usually occur all at once, and they will continue for as long as a person is exposed to the allergen. Sinus symptoms tend to develop over time, and take weeks to subside.

Symptoms that indicate you’re dealing with sinus infection include:

  • Facial pain / pressure
  • Loss of smell
  • Bad breath
  • Fatigue
  • Dental pain

For allergies, unique symptoms include:

  • Itchy eyes / skin / nose
  • Redness / rashes
  • Stomach ache

Of course, if you are ever in doubt, it is best to consult your doctor! Physicians undergo years of training to understand and treat your symptoms, so consult your primary care physician today.

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician.

If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.