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Sinus infection or allergies? When to see a doctor


Sinus infection or allergies? When to see a doctor

It starts with a stuffy head. Then comes the headache and the nose blowing. So much nose blowing.
Your sinuses are a mess, but what’s actually going on – an infection or allergies?
Determining the cause of your symptoms will guide treatment, says Dr. Julia Brogdon, chief resident at the Tidelands Health MUSC Family Medicine Residency Program.
“A lot of people come in and they can’t tell if it’s seasonal allergies or a sinus infection,” Dr. Brogdon says. “Sometimes the symptoms overlap a lot, so it can be hard to tell.”

How to tell the difference

Before you rush to the doctor for treatment, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are trees, grasses and other plants in bloom? Pollen is a typical cause of seasonal allergies.
  • Have you recently been exposed to dust or pet dander? They can cause allergic reactions.
  • Are you experiencing itchy, water eyes? Those symptoms are typically associated with allergies rather than an infection.
  • Have you relocated recently to the Grand Strand from out of state? The shift to a new climate and environment can expose you to new allergens that can cause symptoms.
  • Have you had a cold recently? Sinus infections can follow colds.
  • Do you have a fever? If so, you may have a sinus infection as allergies typically don’t cause fevers.

When to see a doctor

One way to help determine the cause of your discomfort: Take an over-the-counter antihistamine coupled with a nasal steroid such as Flonase, Nasacort or Rhinocort, being sure to follow the medication’s directions carefully. If your symptoms clear up, they’re probably caused by some form of allergy, Dr. Brogdon says.

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If antihistamines don’t help, you may be dealing with a sinus infection. Most often, sinus infections are viral and will clear up on their own without medical care. However, if symptoms don’t improve after a week, it’s a good idea to seek medical care. That could be a sign of a bacterial infection that will require antibiotics to treat, she says. Antibiotics won’t help treat a viral sinus infection, which is far more common than the bacterial variety.

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