Do you have rhinitis or sinusitis? The symptoms can overlap, but the treatments are very different! In basic terms, rhinitis is inflammation in your nose. Sinusitis is inflammation in your sinuses, the cavities above your nose. Because your sinuses drain into your nose, sinusitis can cause symptoms such as a runny or itchy nose. Fortunately, there are some key differences to help you distinguish the two.
For example, if you have a headache, it’s probably sinusitis. If you can’t stop sneezing, that’s a symptom of rhinitis. You should go to an allergist who can help you establish what you have and come up with a treatment plan.
Symptoms of Sinusitis vs Rhinitis
There is some overlap in symptoms when it comes to chronic rhinitis vs sinusitis, such as a runny nose, but here are the symptoms of both conditions so you can compare them.
Note that thick, yellow-green mucus is also a symptom of a common cold and can be a great way to distinguish a cold from allergies.
Causes of Chronic Rhinitis vs Sinusitis
Although there’s a lot of overlap in symptoms in allergic rhinitis vs sinusitis, the causes are very different. Here are the main differences:
Causes of Rhinitis
The primary cause of rhinitis is allergies. Allergies can be seasonal (hay fever) or year-round (typically caused by indoor allergens). Typical allergens that can cause rhinitis include:
- Animal dander
- House dust mite
If your symptoms happen at a particular time of year and worsen when you go outdoors, then pollen is the most likely culprit. If your symptoms are year-round and worsen indoors, then you are allergic to something in the building. If they happen only at home or only at work, this can also let you narrow it down.
An allergist can do tests to establish what you are allergic to. Another way to tell if your symptoms are allergies is to take an over-the-counter antihistamine. If your symptoms ease, it’s almost certainly allergies
There are a few other causes of rhinitis. They include pregnancy, menstruation, colds, dust or other irritants, medication, sudden temperature changes, cold, dry air, exercise, alcohol consumption or hot/spicy food (gustatory rhinitis).
Causes of Sinusitis
The primary cause of sinusitis is a viral or bacterial infection. Rarely, sinusitis can be caused by a fungus. Viral sinusitis usually resolves quickly on its own, lasting no more than seven to ten days. Bacterial sinusitis, however, often requires antibiotics.
If your sinusitis lasts for more than ten days or if you have a persistent fever, you should seek medical attention as these are signs that your sinusitis is caused by bacteria. Being heavily congested can cause a sinus infection, so rhinitis can lead to sinusitis if not addressed.
Chronic sinusitis can start with an infection. It may also be caused by growths in the sinuses, called nasal polyps, or swelling of the lining of the sinuses. Sinusitis that lasts more than three months is considered chronic. Chronic sinusitis typically does not have fever, but can be associated with reduced sense of smell and taste and pain in the ear, upper jaw or teeth.
You are also more at risk of chronic sinusitis if you have a deviated nasal septum (this means the wall between the nostrils is crooked), cystic fibrosis, or HIV.
As most cases of rhinitis involve allergies, rhinitis should be treated by an allergist. The allergist will ask when and where you have symptoms, and then do testing to establish what you are allergic to.
Mild allergic rhinitis can often be managed by trying to avoid your triggers and taking over-the-counter antihistamines. More serious cases may require a steroid injection to bring symptoms under control.
If you can’t avoid your triggers, or don’t want to (for example, it’s a beloved family pet), your allergist may recommend immunotherapy. This is sometimes called “allergen shots,” but may also take the form of sublingual lozenges, especially if you are allergic to a smaller number of things. Over time, you will develop more tolerance to your triggers and should be able to discontinue the therapy.
Other causes of rhinitis are typically established after allergies have been eliminated. Treatments vary. For example, for gustatory rhinitis, the best treatment is to avoid foods that cause the issue. Other treatments for non-allergic rhinitis might include nasal saline rinses to clean out your nose, exercise, and elevating the head of your bed at night. Your doctor will discuss precise treatments for you.
Acute sinusitis caused by a virus typically does not require treatment. Sinusitis that lasts more than 10 days and comes with a persistent fever is typically bacterial and is treated with antibiotics.
Chronic sinusitis can be a long term issue that has to be managed. Treatments include antibiotics, nasal irrigation (to help drain the sinuses and reduce pressure) and topical corticosteroids to redue inflammation.
These corticosteroids are applied to the insde of the nostrils using a nasal spray. Systemic corticosteroids are rarely used, but may be indicated if you have severe sinusitis with nasal polyps. Another medication sometimes used is dupilumab or omalizumab, which reduces the size of nasal polyps.
As sinusitis can also be associated with allergies, seeing an allergist to get tested can help reduce your sinusitis. Treating rhinitis also reduces your risk of a sinus infection.
Rarely, endoscopic sinus surgery is used to remove a blockage preventing the sinuses from draining properly. Balloon sinoplasty is another technique used, in which the doctor will insert a small balloon up your nose and then expand it to clear the blockage.
How to Know if it’s Rhinitis vs Sinusitis?
Here are some general rules to know if its rhinitis vs sinusitis:
- If you are sneezing, have itchy eyes, and the mucus from your nose is thin and clear, it’s probably rhinitis.
- If you have a fever or a headache, if the mucus from your nose is yellow/green and thicker, and if you are coughing, it’s probably sinusitis.
In many cases the first set of symptoms indicate allergies, while the second are more likely to indicate a cold you may want to avoid sharing with others. Acute sinusitis from a cold does not require treatment, although a nasal rinse can help make you less miserable.
Chronic sinusitis can start with acute sinusitis and does require treatment. If your sinusitis lasts more than ten days, see a doctor.
If symptoms are affecting your daily life, there may be an underlying issue. We have a quiz to help you establish whether it’s chronic sinusitis. If so, you can schedule an appointment with Advanced Sinus Relief Centers.