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Chronic Stuffy Nose: Is it Allergies or Sinusitis?

Posted on: October 09, 2017

Sometimes, despite aggressive allergy treatment, nasal congestion persists.  It’s possible that the culprit is sinusitis.

Sinusitis, not to be confused with rhinitis, is characterized by inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses.  Swelling can cause sinus drainage passages to become blocked and mucus to accumulate.  This can lead to symptoms of facial pressure, nasal congestion, and drainage of thick, discolored mucus.

Allergies are one several sources of inflammation in the sinuses.  When you have allergies, your immune system tries to fight off harmless substances known as allergens (e.g., pollen, dust mites, animal dander, molds).  In doing so, the immune system causes inflammation that results in swelling of the nasal passages and sinuses as well as increased mucus production.

Sinusitis can also develop after a cold or other viral infection.

What’s the Difference Between Allergies and Sinusitis?

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between allergies and sinusitis because their symptoms overlap. The following are some of the ways to tell the difference.


Along with a stuffy nose, other symptoms of allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose, may be watery
  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Itching of the ears and/or throat
  • Itchy skin


In addition to stuffy nose, sinusitis can also cause:

  • Thick mucus/drainage that is not clear
  • Headache/feeling of pressure behind forehead, cheeks, and/or eyes
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

Treating allergies and sinusitis


  • Know your allergy triggers and avoid exposure to them when possible.  Board certified allergists at Carolina Asthma and Allergy Center can help to identify the specific things you are allergic to.
  • Over the counter medications including antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays can be effective in controlling mild allergy symptoms.  If you are not responding to these medications, your allergist can discuss prescription medications.
  • Some patients benefit from allergen immunotherapy, also known as “allergy shots.” This involves injections of tiny amounts of the allergens to which you are allergic to help the immune system develop tolerance to them.


  • If your symptoms are not responding to allergy treatment and are lasting for more than 7-10 days, you may need further evaluation by your physician.  In the meantime, over the counter treatments such as antihistamines, decongestants, and saline sinus rinses can provide symptomatic relief.

Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center is a regional care center with 15 board certified allergists to serve you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation or to learn more about our allergy practices in the Charlotte area.

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