The Differences Between Allergic Rhinitis and a Sinus Infection

Woman holding her headDust, pollen, and pet dander can trigger an allergic reaction causing congestion and swollen nasal passages. It might feel like a sinus infection, but it could be allergic rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis differs from a sinus infection in that only the nasal passages are involved in rhinitis. Visit one of our Arkansas Allergy and Asthma offices in Little Rock or Conway to determine if an allergy is the underlying cause of nasal congestion in you or your child.

Sinus infections are prevalent in the United States, affecting over 30 million people each year. There are two main forms of sinus infections, acute and chronic; either can be viral or bacterial infections.

Causes and signs of sinus infections:

The Mayo Clinic describes three symptoms of a sinus infection:

  • Nasal obstruction or congestion (causing difficulty breathing through the nose)
  • Drainage of a thick yellowish or greenish discharge from the nose
  • Tenderness, pain, and swelling around the nose

Bacterial sinus infections often follow a severe head cold or one that lasts more than 14 days. Another potential cause of a sinus infection is a fungus within your sinuses. It is important to know the cause of the infection to ensure the appropriate treatment is provided.

While symptoms of a sinus infection and allergic rhinitis can seem similar, the cause of each is actually quite different, and this requires that doctors treat them differently. At Arkansas Allergy and Asthma in Little Rock and Conway, obtaining an allergy test to evaluate for allergic rhinitis can help understand the cause of your sinus congestion.

What is Allergic Fungal Sinusitis (AFS)?

Allergic Fungal Sinusitis (AFS) is a sinus fungal infection that can cause a chronic allergic reaction resulting in nasal polyps and mucosal plugging of the sinus. Treatment usually involves surgical removal of the mucosal debris and steroid medications. However, treating the underlying allergic condition causing nasal passage swelling and congestion may prevent the development of AFS.

Diagnosing a Sinus Infection

Our staff will start with a patient history to diagnose a sinus infection, and then our physicians will examine your throat, nose, and sinuses. In addition to looking for polyps or changes in the nose’s anatomy, an allergy test can determine if allergies cause nasal swelling. A computed tomography scan – or CT scan – of your sinuses can also tell us where your inflammation is occurring and if any structural problems exist.

What are the treatment options for a Sinus Infection?

Depending on the cause of a sinus infection, the treatment options can differ. Treatments for chronic sinusitis may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • Saline irrigation
  • Antihistamines/decongestants
  • Immunotherapy

What is Allergic Rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is the medical term for allergy affecting the mucous membrane of the nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often called hay fever and is primarily diagnosed through a patient history and an allergy skin test.

Treatments for People Allergic Rhinitis

If our physicians determine you have allergic rhinitis, we can provide various treatment options to help you find relief. If you or your child want to stay active outdoors during allergy season, then with a prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine or allergy treatment medicine, you may continue outdoor activities. Our physicians will take a three-tier approach to treat patients with both asthma and an allergy. Treatments include:

  • Allergy shots that gradually reduces immune system response to the allergen through injecting minute allergen amount to induce gradual desensitization to allergen
  • Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy, or pharmaceuticals that interfere with IgE in the person’s body to prevent an allergic reaction (reserved for patient’s severe asthma)
  • Leukotriene modifier, or a specific type of medication often in pill form

Choosing a local allergy clinic is the best plan of action, especially for the treatment of childhood allergies. An allergist can identify bothersome allergens and recommend a plan to control and even desensitize your child from the things that cause nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes, or other allergy symptoms. Treating allergies with immunotherapy can improve their overall quality of life and even stop them from developing future allergies and the onset of asthma.

You should seek allergic rhinitis treatment in your child as soon as possible if they also have asthma. Choosing Arkansas Allergy and Asthma for your child’s allergic rhinitis treatment means you could prevent an asthma flare, thereby potentially reducing your child’s chance of hospitalizing because of their asthma.

Schedule an Appointment

Contact Arkansas Allergy and Asthma in Little Rock or Conway to schedule an appointment today!