Patients: Confused Between Allergies and Chronic Sinusitis

Perhaps you’ve heard the complaints from friends and family members or voiced them yourself:  “My allergies are acting up,” “Pollen doesn’t agree with me,” or “I’ll feel better after allergy season.”

While there are many people who suffer from allergies, a new survey by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests that many people might be wrong when complaining about allergies.  They should be complaining about sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses that occurs with a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.

The survey, released May 17, 2011, “finds that many Americans who self-diagnose themselves with nasal allergies or sinusitis have difficulty differentiating between symptoms of the two conditions. As a result, they may be misdiagnosing themselves and potentially suffering from a more severe form of the condition known as chronic sinusitis. According to the survey … a significant percentage of those suffering from symptoms are skipping a visit to their doctor and diagnosing themselves even when their symptoms are severe. As a result, patients may often be confusing sinus infection symptoms with allergy symptoms, and not getting optimal care for their condition.

“The symptoms of sinusitis are similar to allergies, and sometimes allergies can lead to sinusitis, so it’s no surprise to learn that patients are confused,” says Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at AAFA. “However, there is a key difference between allergies and chronic sinusitis. If you have allergy-like symptoms that last longer than 12 weeks or symptoms that occur more than three times per year, with symptoms usually lasting more than 20 days despite treatment attempts, you may have chronic sinusitis and should see your doctor for a correct diagnosis and the right medical solution.”

It is estimated that 7 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis, resulting in nearly 32 million cases reported by healthcare providers each year according to the CDC, making it one of the most common health problems in the United States. As this month (May) marks the peak of spring allergy season, it’s important that those suffering from persistent allergies get a proper diagnosis since almost half (47%) of the respondents to the AAFA survey admit to self-diagnosing when they have symptoms.  But close to two in five (39%) respondents think it’s difficult to differentiate between symptoms, and, as a result, over half (51%) have misdiagnosed themselves with allergies when it actually turned out to be sinusitis.

Dr. Stacey Silvers of Beth Israel Hospital in New York City says she is not surprised to learn that close to one in four (23%) respondents typically experience more than three sinus infections a year, meaning that they may actually have chronic sinusitis, while nearly one half (48%) of sinusitis sufferers have not been told about chronic sinusitis by a medical professional.

“Chronic sinusitis has been under-diagnosed for many years for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Silvers.  ”However, since many patients are confused about which medications to take and more than 50 percent of patients do not respond adequately to medications, it’s import that they consult with an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician to get the most appropriate treatment to alleviate long-term suffering.”

A few of the key findings included:

  • Over half (51%) of sufferers have misdiagnosed themselves as having allergies when it actually turned out to be sinusitis.
  • Close to one in four (23%) respondents typically experience this condition more than three times a year, which means that they may actually have chronic sinusitis.
  • What’s more, nearly half (49%) of sinusitis sufferers have never seen an ENT about their sinusitis.

See more on the survey at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.


Dr. O’Halloran, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician, specializes in treating nose and sinus problems.  Trained at the Mayo Clinic, appointments with Dr. O’Halloran can be made at these two locations:

1.) O’Halloran Clinic in Faribault: Patients from Faribault, Owatonna, Waseca and surrounding areas can make an appointment to see Dr. O’Halloran at the O’Halloran Clinic in Faribault.  Please call (507) 333-5499 to schedule an appointment.

2.) FamilyHealth Medical Clinic in Lakeville: Patients from Lakeville, Burnsville, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eagan, Eden Prairie, Rosemount, Edina, Savage, Shakopee, Bloomington and surrounding areas can make an appointment to see Dr. O’Halloran at FamilyHealth Medical Clinic in Lakeville.  Please call (952) 469-0500 to schedule an appointment in Lakeville.