Do I Have Seasonal Allergies or a Sinus Infection?

March 9, 2024


As you eagerly anticipate the beginning of strawberry picking season and perhaps even a trip to pick your own bucket of fresh, sun-ripened berries, you may be bracing yourself for the familiar discomforts brought on by allergies and the seemingly inevitable sinus infections. You might wonder how exactly it is that the sinuses function and why they, at times, make your life truly miserable. Understanding how the sinus system works can help you better navigate the times when they feel like they are working more against than for you.

If you suspect you have allergies or sinus infection, visit AFC Urgent Care Indian Trail today for prompt, compassionate care.

Understanding the Sinuses

The sinuses are the four air-filled cavities located behind your facial bones. Bacteria and germs are not present in healthy sinuses, so the mucus membranes of the sinuses work to move allergens, bacteria, and viruses to the back of the throat and down into the stomach. Sinuses are located just above the eyebrows, around and under the eyes, and behind the nasal bones with the largest ones being about an inch wide. It is thought that the sinuses play a role in voice resonation, helping to filter air, and keeping the nose moist as it warms inhaled air before it reaches the lungs. When the sinuses become swollen and inflamed due to allergies or infection, doctors call the condition sinusitis.

Allergic Sinusitis

Allergies and the allergic sinusitis they can cause are a yearly nemesis to many. Whether it’s tree pollen in early spring or ragweed in the fall, our immune systems can launch into overdrive, triggering a cascade of histamines into our blood. As our body fights invading allergens, we feel downright miserable. Ensuring there’s no shortage of triggers, dust mites, cockroach droppings, and pet dander can cause allergic reactions year-round.


  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Watery & Itchy eyes
  • A general unwell feeling
  • Fatigue due to poor sleep
  • Runny nose & congestion
  • Itchy nose, throat, roof of mouth

Acute Sinusitis

Unlike allergies, which stem from immune responses to external triggers, sinus infections are fueled by inflammation due to viruses and bacteria in our respiratory system. When the sinuses become swollen and inflamed, mucus cannot drain properly, paving the way for bacterial growth and uncomfortable symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Thick mucus
  • Fever
  • Ear pressure
  • Headache
  • Congestion
  • Aching in the teeth
  • Changed sense of smell
  • Bad breath
  • Post-nasal drip (mucus running down the back of the throat)
  • Pressure, swelling, or tenderness of the forehead, cheek, nose, or eye area that worsens when you bend over

Differentiating the Two

Given the symptom overlap between allergies and sinus infections, distinguishing between the two can be tricky. The best way to tell the difference between an allergic response and an acute sinusitis response is through careful observation of your symptoms. While itchiness is a hallmark of allergic reactions, sinus infections often manifest as difficulty breathing through the nose and persistent congestion. Forget the myth about mucus color—it’s not a reliable indicator of infection. Instead, watch out for fever and facial or ear pain, which are more suggestive of a bacterial incursion.

Relief Options

Whether you’re battling allergies or a sinus infection, there are steps you can take to help relieve your symptoms.

Home and Pharmaceutical Treatments:

  • Saline nasal sprays to rinse your nasal passages
  • Inhaling steam to relieve nasal congestion.
  • Decongestants (over-the-counter)
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays to reduce inflammation
  • Allergy shots (desensitization may benefit those with allergies)
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers (Caution: never give Aspirin to children)
  • Severe bacterial infections may require antibiotics.

When to Seek Help

Most cases of allergies and acute sinusitis resolve on their own within a week or two. However, certain red flags warrant medical attention. If symptoms persist beyond 10-14 days or worsen after a week, it’s time to consult a healthcare professional. Watch out for signs of severe infection, such as confusion, high fever, or double vision, and seek prompt medical care if they arise.

Whether it’s seasonal allergies or a sinus infection, understanding the nuances between these conditions is key to effective management and relief. By recognizing the unique symptoms and knowing when to seek medical help, you can navigate the conditions with greater confidence. So, stock up on tissues, arm yourself with remedies, and brace yourself for a smoother journey ahead.

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