Allergies, Sinus Infections

How to Know If It’s Allergies or a Sinus Infection

November 3, 2021

4 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Determining whether you have allergies or a sinus infection can be challenging when so many of the symptoms are the same. Both can cause an itchy throat, headaches, and a runny nose. So how do you tell the difference?

Unlike allergies, a sinus infection causes thick yellowish or green mucus. This is one of the easiest ways to determine which condition you’re dealing with. Here are some additional symptoms you can use to spot the difference between allergies and sinus problems.

Cold, allergies, or sinus infection

Allergies and sinusitis can accompany many of the same symptoms as the common cold, making it difficult to distinguish between the three.

Similar symptoms can include:

Despite having universal symptoms, colds, allergies, and sinus infections all have their own common symptoms as well. You can use these to help you distinguish which condition is causing you problems.

Common cold symptoms

The common cold’s symptoms are fairly generic and hard to distinguish from other viral infections or bacterial infections. Although you can get a fever with a sinus infection, allergies will not typically cause a fever. So if you’re experiencing a low-grade fever and body aches, it’s most likely the common cold or sinusitis. With a common cold, your mucus is usually clear or light yellow in color rather than the dark yellow or green you see with sinus infections.

Because common colds are mostly caused by viruses, the best thing you can do is wait it out and let your body fight it off. You can use over-the-counter medications to help with symptoms such as fever, cough, headaches, and body aches. Drink lots of water and be sure to implement extra time for rest.

Allergy symptoms

Allergies can show many of the same symptoms of the common cold all the way down to fatigue. However, with allergies, your mucus will tend to be clear and watery. You also may experience itchy eyes, which is not a common symptom of colds or sinusitis.

Symptoms of allergies are experienced when you are exposed to common allergies like dust, pollen, or grass. For seasonal allergies, it’s best to try to avoid exposure to known allergens and take over-the-counter antihistamine pills, eye drops, or nasal corticosteroid sprays as needed. If you have severe allergies or are at risk of becoming anaphylactic, get with your doctor to develop a treatment plan.

Continue reading: Can Allergies Cause A Cough?

Sinus infection symptoms

Whether it’s viral infections or bacterial infections, the telltale sign of a sinus infection is thick yellow or green mucus accompanied by facial pressure. Sinus infections occur when your sinus cavities become inflamed, preventing mucus from properly draining and trapping bacteria or viruses. This swelling can result in a tender feeling in your upper cheeks, eyes, or forehead.

Is a sinus infection contagious? Viral, bacterial, and fungal sinus infections can all be contagious so it’s important to keep yourself away from others and use good hygiene practices to prevent it from spreading. Sinus infections typically heal on their own within 10 to 14 days. If your infection lasts longer or you notice your symptoms progressing, don’t wait to call your ENT.

Can allergies progress to sinus infection?

Neither allergies nor a cold can directly cause a sinus infection, although they can create the perfect environment for one to come on. Why? Allergies and colds can cause swelling in your sinus cavities which, as we mentioned, can trap viruses, bacteria, and fungi — giving them the perfect breeding ground.

How to treat allergies or sinus infection

Because treatments for both allergies and sinus infections revolve around lessening the effect of the same symptoms, recommendations can include:

  • Saline nose sprays
  • Nasal corticosteroids
  • Decongestants
  • Allergy medications
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Rest
  • Fluids

If you’re looking for a more permanent solution to allergy symptoms or sinus problems, balloon sinuplasty is a minimally invasive, pain-free procedure that can help decrease congestion, chronic infections, chronic coughs, headaches, and various other nasal problems. 

Looking for relief from chronic allergies or sinus infections? Kaplan Sinus Relief can help.

Dr. Michael Kaplan of Kaplan Sinus Relief is a board-certified ENT who pioneered the balloon sinuplasty treatment in Houston. With over 5,000 successful procedures completed in Houston, Dr. Kaplan can help you achieve lasting relief from chronic allergies or sinus infections.

Clearer breathing is just a phone call away. Request an appointment with Dr. Kaplan or call us at 713-766-1818 to see if balloon sinuplasty is the answer to your sinus issues today.

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