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Patrick DeMarco, M.D.

Complete Guide to Sinusitis: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Plans

guide to sinusitis symptom and treatment

Sinusitis is a common condition affecting around three million people, according to the Mayo Clinic. For relief, many sufferers of sinusitis seek the help of an ear, nose and throat doctor, or ENT. There is another source of help, however—allergists are specialists in sinusitis and an excellent first choice for sinusitis treatment.

Whether you’re considering contacting an allergy specialist or ENT for treatment for sinusitis, this guide to sinusitis provides an overview of the condition that can help you prepare for your appointment.

How Allergies Can Lead to Sinusitis

The body’s response to pollen and other allergens in North Florida’s environment often results in nasal and sinus inflammation, which can lead to blocked sinus passages. Our sinuses are meant to act as a natural flush by draining thin mucus that traps particles and bacteria. When allergies flare, blockages can develop and prevent the sinuses from draining properly, leading to sinusitis and infections. 

In his annual pollen allergy forecast, our own Dr. Patrick DeMarco explains that allergies in Florida are rampant virtually year-round in the Jacksonville area due to the abundance of pollinating species we have. Allergies are often unseen culprits behind sinusitis and they can go undiagnosed for years.

Oak and pine pollen are among the most abundant types of pollen in our area. These two tree species release massive amounts of pollen into the air each year. 

Other tree species in North Florida that are significant pollen producers include: 

  • Birch
  • Bayberry
  • Elm
  • Maple
  • Juniper
  • Mulberry

Jacksonville’s temperate weather in late winter and early spring means more opportunities for outdoor activities, but allergy sufferers know that the warmer weather also means tree pollen levels will be high.  

Allergy Specialists Treat Sinusitis

We treat sinusitis every day at Allergy & Asthma Specialists of North Florida. In the most basic sense, sinusitis is inflammation involving the sinuses around the nose (also known as the paranasal sinuses). These sinuses are air-filled pockets located around the face, forehead, eyes and cheek areas. Virus, bacteria, fungi and allergies are all causes of sinusitis. 

For many people, however, it is the abundant environmental allergens we have here in Jacksonville which trigger the early symptoms of sinusitis. Those allergens stimulate the immune system to cause inflammation throughout the nasal passages and sinuses. That inflammation makes allergic individuals more susceptible to developing sinusitis. 

Chronic Sinusitis and Allergies

When sinusitis is left untreated, your sinusitis infection can progress and lead to much more serious issues. A relatively minor case of sinusitis can develop into chronic sinusitis which can cause repeated flare-ups of symptoms. These flare ups can be lengthy with symptoms lasting 12 weeks or longer at a time. 

That’s why when you experience sinusitis symptoms, it’s important to get treated by a sinusitis specialist. Our allergists can help discern what type sinusitis you may have, as well as determine the root causes. 

Sinusitis vs Rhinitis & Sinusitis vs Covid: Symptoms to Look For

There are many other conditions that can mimic sinusitis and doing an internet search of these can quickly make a patient feel like they have an array of conditions. That’s why when you’re experiencing symptoms of sinusitis or other sinus infections, it’s important to make an appointment with a board certified allergist.

One of the conditions which may be confused with sinusitis is rhinitis, but these two conditions are quite different. Rhinitis symptoms include:

  • Sneezing, stuffy, or runny nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Clear nasal drainage
  • Snoring

Another very common condition we’re seeing currently is COVID-19 infections. Since COVID-19 is a variant of the cold virus, many of the symptoms can be similar to sinusitis which is where testing and treatment early are highly recommended. COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fatigue and muscle aches
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose
  • Some patients experience nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea and body aches (similar to the flu)

Sinus infections in general have many associated symptoms similar to those above such as a fever or headache, tenderness around the facial area, nasal drainage and/or general stuffiness, sneezing, itchy and/or watery eyes, altered sense of smell, tooth aches, or a sore throat. Most likely, classifying what kind of viral or bacterial infection you have is going to take a nose swab and culture test.

When it's Necessary to See a Sinusitis Specialist

Painful pressure around the brow of the forehead, behind your eyes, or cheek area are all signs that something may be affecting your sinuses. You may also have post-nasal drainage, are congested, or have a fever. 

When the symptoms last longer than a week, get worse after seeming to get better, or when sinusitis symptoms keep occurring, it’s definitely time to see a sinusitis specialist who can help identify what’s causing your issues. Schedule your appointment today to start the process.

How Allergists Treat Sinusitis

Board certified allergists/immunologists are skilled practitioners in a wide range of allergy-related conditions, infections, and ailments. Our physicians have the experience and equipment necessary to pinpoint your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to help make you well. By following an evidenced-based roadmap, we’re able to guide patients on a path of recovery to ensure long term health and wellness. 

Diagnosing Sinusitis 

The first step in treating sinusitis is to diagnose the cause of the patient’s discomfort. An allergy specialist will start with a series of directed questions that can help understand a patient’s medical history and how it plays into the symptoms they are experiencing. An examination of the patient's ears, nose, and throat will help spot any tell-tale signs like redness, swelling, or a blockage. 

Treatment Options for Sinusitis

Allergists seek to minimize the reliance on medication and favor a more natural response. Jax Allergy’s board certified allergists always have the goal of using the “least amount of medications (and preferably none if possible) to control symptoms while maintaining favorable outcomes.” This is generally how allergists treat sinusitis differently. We help to educate our patients on the diagnosis and causes of your chronic nasal and sinus inflammation. 

For example, nasal saline irrigation is an extremely effective way to treat the symptoms of sinusitis and the equipment can be purchased just about anywhere, from online retailers like Amazon to any corner pharmacy. 

Other treatment options for the symptoms of sinusitis which may be prescribed include:

  • Nasal steroid sprays
  • Prescription nasal antihistamine sprays
  • Antibiotics if indicated
  • Decongestants and OTC cold medicines
  • OTC pain and fever medicines

Long-term or chronic sinusitis is going to require additional treatment planning. Often, an allergist is helping to pinpoint the underlying condition and treat the issue at the source. A patient may require intranasal steroid sprays, saline rinses, and antihistamine sprays among the many different treatment options available today. 

Set Up an Appointment to Treat Sinusitis

If you've experienced the pain and pressure of sinusitis, especially as a chronic condition, it's time to get lasting relief. Make an appointment to come see our board certified allergists at Asthma and Allergy Specialists of North Florida. We'll look at your symptoms, diagnose the condition, and create a treatment plan based on the best medical information to help you recover quickly.

Sinusitis FAQs

Is sinusitis an infection?

Sinusitis can be caused by infections, growths in the sinuses, or inflammation in the lining of the sinuses which can be caused by allergies or pollutants. When the nasal cavities become infected, swollen, and inflamed, you may have sinusitis and should seek an allergy and sinusitis specialist for diagnosis and a treatment plan.

When should you see a doctor for sinusitis? 

Sinusitis can cause an array of different symptoms. Among these, if you have a fever, pain or swelling around the facial area, headaches, sore throat, tooth pain, or a stiff neck, it’s definitely a good idea to see a sinusitis specialist and get checked out. 

Who is most likely to get sinusitis? 

Both adults and children can be affected by sinusitis. The inflammation that occurs with millions of allergy sufferers each year is also a common cause of sinusitis. However, a sinus infection can happen to anyone. Those particularly at risk include allergy sufferers, those with nasal polyps, people with asthma, and/or those with abnormal nose structures.

How can you tell if it's sinusitis or allergies?

The most important part will be discerning whether it’s a sinus infection, allergies, or both. A sinusitis specialist can distinguish if your symptoms are due to nasal or sinus problems. Our board certified allergists can also diagnose allergy problems which are often common causes of acute and chronic sinusitis. 

How do you get sinusitis?

There are a number of causes of sinusitis including nasal polyps,a variety of underlying medical conditions, infections, and, most commonly, allergies. Allergies cause nasal and sinus inflammation, which can lead to blockages and infection. Regular exposure to environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke can also increase your risk factors for getting sinusitis. 

Can you spread sinusitis to others?

Viral sinus infections are indeed spreadable while a bacterial infection is not. Chronic sinusitis caused by allergies, polyps, or a deviated septum are not generally infectious but you should consult your doctor and avoid close contact with others until you know what’s causing your issues. 

What’s the best way to treat sinusitis?

Depending on the root causes of your sinusitis, your doctor can describe a variety of sinusitis treatment options. Most of these can be relatively mild. Our board certified allergists typically look for ways to treat sinusitis with minimal dependence on heavy medication to ensure long term wellness. Common treatments include saline nasal irrigation, allergy medications, and nasal sprays. Antibiotics may be necessary when bacterial sinusitis is present. Immunotherapy can also help chronic sinusitis symptoms. 

Is sinusitis life threatening?

In rare instances sinusitis can be life threatening if left untreated. Certain conditions could develop, such as meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid around the brain and spinal cord. Whenever you are experiencing symptoms of sinusitis, it’s important to get checked out by a specialist who can diagnose and treat your specific condition.

How can you relieve symptoms of sinusitis?

There are a number of self-care options that can help relieve symptoms of sinusitis including resting, drinking plenty of fluids, warm compresses for the facial area, moistening the sinus cavities, and irrigating the nasal passages.

Is there a way to keep from getting sinusitis?

You can reduce your risk factors for developing sinusitis by taking some proactive steps. 

The first is to understand your allergies and work with an allergy specialist to develop a game plan to manage and prevent symptoms. Next, you should avoid others who have sinus infections, colds, and other health issues as much as possible. Remember to wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat. Avoiding outdoor pollutants and cigarette smoke can also help lower your risk of developing sinus-related issues. Lastly, clean air in your home is a must. Make sure to change air filters at least once per month and regularly clean and dust the home.