How to Tell the Difference
got a scratchy throat and a runny nose, and a truly horrible headache.
Are you in the throes of seasonal
allergies, which are already bedeviling people in many parts of
the country? Or are you struggling with a bout of sinusitis, a condition
in which the sinuses become inflamed or infected?
The answer may lie in a handful of
telltale clues, doctors say.
On the surface, allergies and sinusitis
are very similar, even though they are very different, says Dr.
Alpen Patel, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at George
Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"In fact, it's very difficult for
patients and health-care providers to differentiate the two, even
with diagnostic studies and imagery," Patel says.
Both diseases affect millions of
Doctors estimate that about millions
are affected by sinusitis every year, according to the National
Institutes of Health. And about 32 million people suffer from seasonal
Allergies are caused by the immune
system's overreaction to a misidentified threat, such as pollen.
The body's cells defend themselves by releasing histamine, a chemical
that causes an "allergic cascade" of familiar symptoms such as coughing,
sneezing and a runny nose, says Mike Tringale, a spokesman for the
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Sinusitis, on the other hand, can
be triggered by a number of factors, including a cold, allergies
or a virus, leading to irritation and inflammation of the sinuses.
If left untreated, problems can last from weeks to months, even
years, requiring antibiotics and bed rest, Patel says.
Both conditions share a number of
symptoms, Patel says. They include:
- nasal congestion or blockage.
- nasal drainage either out of the
nose or down the throat.
- headaches and "sinus pain."
Making it even more difficult to
distinguish between the two, allergy patients are more likely to
have sinus infections than people who don't suffer from allergies,
Patel says. "They often can't tell whether they have just allergies
or an accompanying sinus condition," Patel says.
But there are critical differences
than can help you figure out just what you've got.
The color and consistency of the
mucus from your nose is one hint, Patel says. Allergy sufferers
have thin mucus that's either clear or white in color. People with
sinusitis have thick, discolored and foul-smelling mucus.
Because the histamines released during
an allergic reaction can affect other parts of the body, people
with allergies also will suffer symptoms outside of the sinuses.
These could include watery, itchy eyes, and itchy skin.
Sinusitis, on the other hand, can
sometimes be accompanied by a toothache or pain between the eyes,
suggesting an infection is taking place, rather than an allergic
reaction, Patel says.
When it comes to treatments, people
with allergies can often control their symptoms with antihistamines,
Tringale says. They also can get an allergy test that will give
them a better idea what is causing the reaction, so they can avoid
With sinusitis, once a diagnosis
has been made, some people can get by with rest, plenty of fluids
and over-the-counter medications to treat their symptoms, Patel
says. He recommends using a saltwater nasal spray to clean out the
nose, to help wash away any viruses, and moisturize the inflamed
sinus tissues. Pain relievers and decongestants also are helpful.
But if symptoms persist, more aggressive
treatments are needed. A person diagnosed with acute sinusitis,
for instance, might require a prescription for an antibiotic to
eliminate the infection, and a decongestant to reduce congestion.
Chronic sinusitis can be more difficult to treat and may require
stronger oral antibiotics or intranasal nebulized treatments. If
none of these approaches works, or patients have underlying physiological
problems such as a narrow sinus passage, surgery may be necessary.
People with recurring and chronic
sinusitis might also need a CT scan to determine the extent of their
problem, Patel says.
And while these tips may help you
tell the difference between seasonal allergies and sinusitis, experts
recommend that you seek medical help for a correct diagnosis and
the right course of action.
"Because they are so close company,
it really requires the intervention of a doctor or allergist," Tringale
To learn more about sinusitis, visit
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Reference Source 101