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What are allergies? Sinus disease?

What’s the difference between “Sinus” and “Allergy”? The nomenclature often gets used interchangeably, but there are several important differences between the two. The confusion often originates from marketing of popular over the counter (OTC) medications such as Tylenol Cold and Sinus. The situation gets even more confusing with the constantly increasing OTC oral meds and nasal sprays available. (Some of which may be habit forming)

Allergy

The important thing to keep in mind is that an allergy is a condition in which the body is inappropriately hypersensitive to something in the environment. An allergic condition usually requires prolonged therapy with anti-allergy medications or immunotherapy. Allergic conditions may occur perennially, meaning all year long or seasonally whenever a particular allergen is more prevalent in the environment.

 

The term sinus usually refers to an infectious process originating in one of the cavities in the facial bones. Sinus infections typically require an antibiotic to be eradicated, particularly if symptoms fail to improve after 5-7 days of conservative measures. Sinus infections can turn into chronic infections which may require surgery.

 

One of the unique tools otolaryngologists have to differentiate an allergy from a sinus infection is a nasal endoscopy. Nasal endoscopy is a fairly painless in-office procedure where the physician can look inside the nasal cavities using a small fiberoptic scope. An endoscopycan help differentiate an infection from an allergy and thereby tailor therapy. This is a much preferred approach than the gunshot approach of taking an OTC sinus medication. Next time you head down the OTC aisle of your local pharmacy and are tempted to pick up a “Sinus” medication think twice and meet with an otolaryngologist first.

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