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If you don’t have reason to be familiar with rhinitis vs. sinusitis, these two conditions can sound very similar. After all, both conditions occur within your sinuses and share many symptoms. But when you start to experience one condition or the other, knowing the difference can be helpful. So, are sinusitis and rhinitis the same condition? Not exactly. 

A closer look at sinusitis vs. rhinitis reveals that these two sinus conditions have marked differences. Here’s everything you need to know about rhinitis vs. sinusitis — including different treatment types. 

What is rhinitis? 

Rhinitis, also called allergic rhinitis, is the term used to describe the condition that occurs when your body reacts to allergens. In other words, when someone says their allergies are bothering them, they could also say they are currently suffering from rhinitis. 

Some individuals struggle with rhinitis only during a particular season of the year — a situation which most folks refer to as “seasonal allergies” or “hay fever.” Others experience long-term, chronic rhinitis when the allergens to which their bodies react are present year-round. 

What is sinusitis? 

Sinusitis, also referred to as a sinus infection, occurs when the lining of your sinuses becomes inflamed due to an infection caused by either a virus, bacteria, or (rarely) a fungus. You can also get a sinus infection if your sinuses are regularly blocked — by congestion, for example, or by a nasal obstruction, such as a polyp. 

You can have acute sinusitis that lasts 2-4 weeks, chronic sinusitis that lasts more than 12 weeks, or frequent sinusitis infections that recur several times a year. Unlike rhinitis, sinusitis that is caused by a virus (but not by bacteria or fungus) is contagious. 

Are sinusitis and rhinosinusitis the same? 

Yes. In some academic and clinical circles, rhinosinusitis is viewed as the more accurate term for sinusitis because the term illustrates the relationship between the sinuses and nasal passageways more clearly. Keep in mind, though, that rhinosinusitis ≠ rhinitis

Rhinitis vs. sinusitis symptoms and attributes 

Where most people get tied up understanding the difference between rhinitis and sinusitis is when they think about the symptoms. To help clarify this issue, here is a side-by-side comparison of rhinitis vs. sinusitis symptoms and other important attributes. 



Symptoms: Stuffy nose, runny nose, eyes that are red/itchy/watery, sneezing, wheezing, rash, fatigue

Symptoms: Stuffy nose, swollen and painful sinuses, post-nasal drip, chronic cough, fatigue, bad breath, low fever

Mucus: Typically clear and watery

Mucus: Thicker and yellow/green

Onset: Directly after exposure to allergen(s)

Onset: 1-2 weeks after exposure to contagious individual, or after 1-2 weeks of continuous congestion  

Duration: Symptoms disappear after allergens are no longer present

Duration: 4-12 weeks or longer, depending on the severity of the infection

Can rhinitis turn into sinusitis? 

Yes. This is another reason why people often get confused when discussing rhinitis vs. sinusitis  — untreated and/or chronic rhinitis can create the ideal environment for a sinus infection to occur.

Specifically, if your allergies are particularly bad and you are frequently congested, the buildup of mucus in your sinuses can become a breeding ground for the kind of bacteria that can lead to a sinus infection. 

How do you treat rhinitis vs. sinusitis? 

An occasional bout with rhinitis can be treated with OTC medication (recommended by your doctor) or, in some cases, prescription medications. For sporadic and non-chronic sinusitis, your doctor may also recommend OTC medications or, in very severe cases, antibiotics. 

If you have rhinitis or sinusitis that is treatment-resistant and/or chronic, however, then more aggressive treatment may be necessary. In these cases, you will want to discuss treatment options with a trusted sinus doctor (also called an ENT, or ear, nose, and throat doctor)

Although allergies can seem like a normal part of your daily life, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t ignore nasal allergy symptoms when they occur. Nasal allergy symptoms can include nasal congestion, a runny nose, irritation, and itchiness — and if left untreated, nasal allergies can lead to other sinus problems that can cause more severe outcomes. 

The sinus experts at Kaplan Sinus Relief are here to explain why you shouldn’t ignore nasal allergy symptoms, how to spot them, and how to find treatment that works for you. 

Nasal allergy symptoms

Nasal allergies also referred to as allergic rhinitis occur when the inside of your nose becomes inflamed, irritated, and blocked after exposure to an allergen. The more common allergies are pollen, mold, dust, and pet dander. 

Nasal allergy symptoms are similar to symptoms of the common cold:

A person can experience seasonal allergies, most commonly in the springtime, but others experience them year-round. If you are someone who experiences nasal allergy symptoms irregularly or continuously for more than three weeks at a time, you could be dealing with chronic rhinitis

What happens if you ignore your allergies?

Because so many individuals live with allergies, they tend to push their symptoms aside and use over-the-counter allergy medications to keep their symptoms at bay. But what they don’t understand is that allergy symptoms can be more serious than you might realize. 

Here is why you shouldn’t ignore nasal allergy symptoms: when your nasal passage is congested from allergies, your sinuses get blocked by inflamed tissues. When sinuses can’t drain, they trap mucus and air inside, which leads to pain, pressure, and possible infections. If you ignore your allergy symptoms, you could be allowing your symptoms to worsen. 

What happens if allergic rhinitis is left untreated?

If allergic rhinitis goes untreated, it could lead to other health complications including:

  • Sinus infection: Can allergies cause a sinus infection? Although they typically aren’t the source, allergies can cause swelling in your sinus cavities which, as we mentioned, can trap viruses and bacteria. Meaning, you are more likely to get a sinus infection if you have untreated allergy symptoms. 

  • Nasal polyps: These painless growths in your nose can block your sinus airways making it difficult to breathe, smell, or taste. 

  • Middle ear infections: These infections are caused by inflammation, redness, swelling, and fluid build-up behind the eardrum and can be painful in some cases. 

  • Difficulty sleeping: Not only does the blocked nasal passage make you miserable when you are awake, but it can also lead to chronic sinus problems and mouth breathing, which often disturbs your sleep — and if you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune system is lower, leaving you vulnerable to other viruses and illnesses.

Now, before we begin to discuss treatment options, we must be clear that if you’re searching for how to cure allergic rhinitis permanently, conditions involving allergens are unfortunately difficult to permanently get rid of. However, there are options that can help you find long-term relief from your symptoms. 

Treatment for nasal allergies

At-home remedies and medical intervention both have a place in helping you deal with your allergies and will vary case-by-case. However, it is important to note that if you suffer from chronic rhinitis or have severe allergy congestion, it would be wise to seek medical help to prevent further complications.    

Nose allergy treatment at home

When allergies are at their worst, most people begin with over-the-counter medications such as nasal sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants in order to help alleviate the symptoms. While these medications might ease the pressure for a little while, those with allergies are not addressing the major issue at hand. 

Over-the-counter medicine can make you feel better for the time being but they are a temporary solution. The truth is, allergies can make a huge impact on your life and it is a better idea to get a proper medical evaluation by a sinus specialist. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising clinicians not to prescribe asthma and allergy drug montelukast to patients with mild symptoms, due to the risks of serious behavior and mood-related issues.

Montelukast (Singulair and generics) already includes warnings about mental health side effects but the FDA decided to implement a boxed warning following continued reports of neuropsychiatric events such as agitation, depression, sleeping problems and suicidal thoughts and actions. It also will require patients with a prescription to be given a medication guide.

“With today’s action, the FDA aims to make sure patients and medical providers have the information available to make informed treatment decisions,” Sally Seymour, M.D., director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Rheumatology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said in a news release. “Importantly, there are many other safe and effective medications to treat allergies with extensive history of use and safety, such that many products are available over the counter without a prescription.”

The FDA recommends clinicians:

  • ask patients about their history of psychiatric illness before prescribing montelukast;

  • consider the risks and benefits of montelukast and review them with patients;

  • advise patients to stop taking montelukast, and contact a health care professional immediately if they experience changes in behavior or new neuropsychiatric symptoms, suicidal thoughts or behavior;

  • monitor all patients treated with montelukast for neuropsychiatric symptoms;

  • encourage patients and their parents/caregivers to read the medication guide that explains safety risks; and

  • report adverse events to the FDA’s MedWatch program,

The FDA’s full drug safety communication is available at

Copyright © 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics

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