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
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
- 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.