Sinusitis is inflammation that affects the paranasal sinuses, which are spaces in the skull bones behind the nose, cheeks, forehead and eyes. The sinuses are mucus membrane-lined, and these membranes can become inflamed, especially if the sinuses are blocked off. This usually happens after a person has an upper respiratory infection like the common cold. When the sinuses become blocked off, they can not drain properly and bacteria may also start to grow within them, making the inflammation worse. Sinus infections may become chronic in some cases, especially sinus infections that are caused by a fungus.
Typical symptoms of a sinus infection include fever, sinus headache pressure behind the eyes and nose and in the forehead, nasal congestion, abnormal discharge from the nose, sore throat, fatigue and malaise, cough and decreased sense of smell. Although sinus infections are usually caused by bacterial growth, antibiotics are not usually recommended for most sinus infections. However, antibiotics may be given to people with a high fever, those with severe headaches and swelling, and those with prolonged symptoms. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms, such as sinus headaches and nasal congestion.
Allergic rhinitis is another type of inflammation that affects the mucus membranes of the nasal cavity itself. This condition results from seasonal allergies (hay fever) due to an allergic response to plant pollen, or allergies due to other inhaled irritants, like mold spores, dust mite byproducts or pet dander in the home. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is becoming increasingly more common. When an allergen is breathed in, the cells of the mucus membranes in the nose will respond by releasing a chemical called histamine, which causes inflammation of the mucus membranes.
This inflammation causes allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes and itchiness. Chronic allergic rhinitis can cause later symptoms like cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, swelling under the eyes, impaired sense of smell, fatigue and headache that are similar to the symptoms of sinusitis. Treatments for allergic rhinitis include antihistamines, nasal decongestant drugs, inhaled corticosteroids and avoidance of the allergens that trigger your symptoms. The most severe cases of allergies may be treated with allergy shots, which are injections of the allergen that decrease the body’s sensitivity to that allergen over time.
If you are not sure whether you have allergic rhinitis or sinusitis, see a doctor. There are symptomatic treatments for both conditions, but the use of antihistamines will not help a sinus infection, and antibiotics will not help with allergic rhinitis.