CareNow® - January 18, 2022

Are you experiencing cold-like symptoms that have gotten worse in the last several days? If so, you (or your child) may have a sinus infection. It’s also possible that you are suffering from allergies. A few things will help you decide between the two and find the best course of action to get better.

What causes sinus infections and allergies?

Sinus infection, also known as sinusitis, affects 37 million Americans at least once a year. The common cold, which causes inflammation in sinus passages and traps fluid in your sinus cavities, is usually the culprit. The buildup of trapped fluid is what causes pressure and pain in your face and head. Besides colds, other causes of sinus infections include nasal polyps, a deviated septum, bacterial or fungal infections, smoke and even allergies.

Allergies happen when your immune system thinks a non-harmful substance is dangerous, like grass, pollen, dust or even your kitten. When that happens, your immune system floods your blood with chemicals to fight off the danger. You might have an itching throat, eyes, nose and sneezing, along with some symptoms that are like those of a sinus infection.

Symptoms of sinus infection vs. allergies

How long symptoms last can help you tell the difference between sinus infections and allergies, but not always. Seasonal allergies can come and go, and household allergies can be hard to identify. Below are a few ways to tell if you have a sinus infection or an allergy and what you can do to feel better.

Symptoms of a sinus infection may include:

  • Sinus pressure or face pain behind the eyes and cheeks
  • Runny, stuffy nose lasting more than a week
  • Inability to blow your nose
  • A headache that continues to worsen
  • Fever
  • Tooth pain
  • Cough
  • Bad breath
  • Drainage from your nose or down the back of your throat
  • Fatigue
  • A decrease in your sense of smell

Symptoms of allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes, nose or throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Post-nasal drip

One factor that distinguishes sinus infections from allergies is exposure. Unlike sinus infection symptoms, allergy symptoms diminish within minutes to hours after removing the allergen from your environment, but that’s not always possible. A provider can help you distinguish allergies from sinus infections and treat your symptoms.

How long will your sinus infection last?

When dealing with a sinus infection, it’s important to know if you’re suffering from an acute sinus infection or a chronic one. Each infection has a different timeline. 

Acute sinus infection symptoms

Acute sinusitis is described as an abrupt development of cold-like symptoms and facial pain that persists for up to four weeks. 

The primary symptoms are facial pain and pressure, thick nasal discharge, congestion, cough and loss of smell and/or taste. Secondary symptoms can include fever, fatigue, toothaches and bad breath. 

Most acute sinus infections resolve within a week to 10 days. You may be diagnosed with acute sinusitis if you have at least two of the sinus infection symptoms listed above.

Chronic sinus infection symptoms

Chronic sinusitis is characterized as a sinus infection that lasts longer than eight weeks without relenting. People with this condition may experience the following symptoms for this length of time: facial congestion or a feeling of “fullness” in the head, nasal blockage, fever, discolored nasal discharge and pus in the nasal cavity.

Additional symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, bad breath and toothaches.

You may be diagnosed with chronic sinusitis if you have at least two of the symptoms above that last longer than eight weeks.

Recurrent sinusitis describes several sinus infections within a single year. Patients diagnosed with recurrent sinusitis experience the same symptoms as those with other types of the condition.

How should you treat a sinus infection?

If you are suffering from a sinus infection, it's a good idea to see a provider who can prescribe a simple course of antibiotics to help clear up the infection. 

At CareNow®, we recommend coming in for an evaluation if you think you might have a sinus infection. Diagnosing a sinus infection early can prevent the worsening of the condition. A CareNow® provider will examine your symptoms and determine the best treatment plan. If the provider notices signs of swelling, congestion and infection, they will likely diagnose you with sinusitis.

Since most sinus infections are viral, treatment will be focused on symptom relief, and your provider will determine when antibiotics may be the best course of action.

In some instances, your provider may recommend you visit an ear, nose and throat provider — also known as an ENT. An ENT can perform a nasal endoscopy that allows insight into your sinuses. With an endoscopy, the provider will numb inside your nostrils and insert a thin, flexible device up your nose, allowing them a look into your sinuses.

CareNow® can help treat sinus infection symptoms

For temporary relief, apply a warm moist washcloth on your face several times a day. This should help relieve the pressure in your head. A provider may prescribe a nasal spray to reduce the inflammation inside your nasal passages. If your provider prescribes medication, it’s important to take it as prescribed and follow the proper dosage instructions.

Acute sinusitis can take up to four weeks to treat, while chronic sinusitis is more complex and typically takes longer to treat. While acute sinusitis is generally treated with an antibiotic, chronic sinusitis may require multiple antibiotics, including a corticosteroid nasal spray that can reduce inflammation.

If you find yourself suffering from sinus infection symptoms, consider visiting your local CareNow®. We make it easy to get in and out by offering Web Check-In® so you can wait for your appointment from anywhere!

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions, or deciding if medical advice is right for you.