With runny noses, inflammation and congestion being common symptoms when suffering from both an allergy and a sinus infection, distinguishing the cause of these symptoms can be quite challenging. However, discerning between the two is important to know what to expect and what treatment to use. Fortunately, there are a few key differences to help you distinguish between an allergy and sinusitis.

While allergies and sinus infections have very similar symptoms, they are two separate conditions that have distinct causes and treatments. So, what are the differences?
What is an allergy?
Allergies are extremely common in both adults and children. According to the Allergy Foundation of South Africa, approximately a third of South Africans will suffer from some allergic disease at some point in their lives. An allergy or allergic rhinitis can be described as an overreaction of the immune system to a substance that is generally harmless. These substances are known as allergens and can be anything from pollen to dust mites pet dander, and even certain foods. As soon as the allergen enters the body, the immune system releases specific chemicals (histamines) into the bloodstream and these chemicals cause symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, and fatigue. Unlike sinus infections, allergies can also cause itchy, watery eyes. A cough can also be a symptom of an allergy. Coughing associated with allergies is usually the body’s way of trying to expel the irritants or allergens from the airways. It is a protective mechanism aimed at clearing the respiratory system and preventing further irritation.

Antihistamines can help relieve the symptoms of an allergy by halting the release of histamine in the body and therefore, stop all the symptoms that this chemical causes.
What is a sinus infection?
Sinus infections or sinusitis occurs when there is inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, which are the four pairs of air-filled cavities located at the front of the skull that connect directly to the nasal passages. As the sinuses swell, it becomes more difficult for the mucus to move through the sinuses, affecting the drainage of these areas, which can cause discomfort, congestion, and pain. Sinus infections are usually caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Approximately 90% – 98% of sinusitis is caused by viruses, and produces symptoms like a runny nose, headache, and congestion. A sinus infection can also cause thick yellow or green mucus in the nasal passages, which is not generally the case for allergic rhinitis as well as coughing. When the sinuses become infected, the nasal passages become congested, leading to mucus build-up and a feeling of pressure. This congestion can trigger a cough as the body tries to clear the airways and relieve the irritation.

Most sinus infections are viral and therefore, clear up on their own in about a week or two. However, there are certain medications available to help you alleviate the symptoms of sinus infections so that you can get better faster. Prospan, the number one prescribed and selling cough brand in South Africa, is clinically proven to effectively treat and relieve coughs by opening up the airways, thinning the mucus, and reducing coughing spasms. To find out more about Prospan, click here.
Symptoms of allergiesSymptoms of sinus infection
Runny NoseRunny Nose
Nasal CongestionNasal Congestion
Itchy, Watery eyesThick Yellow or Green Discharge
With the winter season already here, it is important to be able to distinguish between a sinus infection and an allergy as this can help you choose the best medication to treat your condition. Remember that it is also important to visit your healthcare provider for more information or if you are unsure of your symptoms.
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