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Sinusitis vs Rhinitis: Sniffing Out the Differences in Royal Oak, MI

Understanding the difference between sinusitis and rhinitis can sometimes be difficult for people who aren't in the medical profession.

I mean, take it from us.

We've been providing sinusitis and rhinitis treatment in Royal Oak, MI for over 20 years, and in that time, there's no telling how many sinusitis and rhinitis cases we've treated. Although all cases are different, one thing is always the same - people who are not in the medical field, think these conditions are the same.

But they aren't.

It's easy to conflate these two conditions because they have similar symptoms. However, they are absolutely two different things. While we never recommend self-diagnosing, we do think it's important that people have as much information as possible to help them understand sinusitis vs rhinitis.

As a family ENT clinic in Royal Oak, we want our patients to be fully aware of all the facts surrounding their condition, so let's dig into sinusitis vs rhinitis, what they are, how they're similar, and how they're different.

Sinusitis: Inflammation of the Tissue Lining

The sinuses are made up of four paired cavities - two behind the cheeks and two behind the forehead above and between the eyes. These cavities are responsible for producing mucus that drains out of the nose. This drainage helps keep the nose clean and free of bacteria, allergens, germs, and other irritants.

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the lining of the sinuses.

This inflammation can occur due to an inflammatory reaction to an outside stimulus or an infection resulting from a virus, bacteria, or fungus. Let's take a look at some of the most common causes and symptoms of this condition: 

Causes. Allergies, deviated septum, nasal bone spur, nasal polyps, clogged sinus opening, chronic infection (leading to mucosal swelling and inflammation), and cilia (small hairs) in the sinuses that fail to properly evacuate the mucus from the sinuses.

Symptoms. Bad breath, loss of smell, coughing (especially at night), fatigue, fever, headache, pressure, tenderness and pain behind the forehead and face, toothache, nasal congestion and discharge, sore throat, and a postnasal drip.

Though sinusitis can be uncomfortable, it usually resolves with proper treatment. Maintaining good sinus hygiene through saline irrigation can help prevent recurrence of acute sinusitis. Those with chronic sinusitis may need ongoing treatment and management.

Rhinitis: Inflammation of the Nasal Passages

Where sinusitis refers to inflammation of the lining of the sinus, rhinitis refers to inflammation of the nasal passages.

There are two types of rhinitis - allergic and nonallergic rhinitis.

While one is caused by an allergic reaction and the other is caused by irritation due to nonallergic stimuli, in both cases, the passages of the nose are inflamed and tender, and produce symptoms that have considerable overlap.

Let's take a look at some of the most common causes and symptoms of rhinitis -- most of which are similar to that of sinusitis.

Causes. Allergies, deviated septum, nasal bone spur, nasal polyps, dust mites, fumes, strong odors, hormonal changes, overusing nasal sprays, and certain foods or spices.

Symptoms. Sneezing, congested or runny nose, itchy nose, eyes, ears, and/or throat, nosebleeds, clear drainage, recurrent ear infections, snoring, mouth breathing, and fatigue.

Allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens in the environment. Nonallergic rhinitis involves chronic nasal congestion and discharge in the absence of allergies. With proper management, rhinitis symptoms can often be effectively controlled.

Diagnosis: Getting to the Bottom of Sinusitis & Rhinitis

While the symptoms and causes of sinusitis and rhinitis have differences, diagnosing the issues is essentially the same.

This is because so many of the same symptoms and causes overlap that many times, diagnosing the issue becomes a matter of pinpointing where the symptoms are coming from - the nasal passages or the sinuses.

In both cases, the diagnosis begins with a thorough exam and medical history. Your ENT doctor will look for obvious signs of inflammation, fatigue, and blocked breathing passages -- including: 

  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Creases under the eyes
  • Swollen tissues inside the nose and sinuses
  • Mouth breathing
  • Obvious tenderness of the face and forehead

After the exam and medical history, other steps may be taken to either determine which of these conditions the patient has or to confirm the suspected diagnosis -- such as: 

  • Allergy testing
  • Nasal or sinus swab
  • CT scan to view bones and tissues more closely
  • MRI to confirm or rule out tumors or fungal infection

Diagnosing sinusitis and rhinitis requires a skilled physician to identify the underlying causes. Accurate diagnosis is essential for effective treatment. With a combination of careful listening, physical examination, and advanced imaging, doctors can get to the root of sinus troubles.

Treating Sinusitis vs Rhinitis

While sinusitis and rhinitis can be frustrating to deal with, consulting a healthcare provider to find the right treatment plan can help patients manage these conditions.

As a long-time family ENT clinic in Royal Oak Michigan, we've been explaining the difference between sinusitis and rhinitis and how they're treated for years.

One thing that patients are often surprised by is that, while both sinusitis and rhinitis are different, their treatments are essentially the same -- and it's because the nasal passages and sinuses are so intrinsically connected.

If diagnosed with either sinusitis or rhinitis, treatment may include: 

  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots) to lessen the reaction a person has to allergic stimuli
  • Antihistamines
  • Nonprescription or prescription decongestants and/or steroid nose sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Surgery to correct a deviated septum or remove nasal polyps

Not only that, but lifestyle measures like drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier, avoiding irritants like tobacco smoke, practicing good hygiene, and getting adequate rest can help alleviate symptoms. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of action moving forward.

The Rontal Clinic: Relief Is Right Around the Corner

Are you experiencing symptoms of rhinitis or sinusitis? Are you worried that your sinusitis or rhinitis is worsening -- making it harder to breathe, and live a quality life? Do you want to get your condition checked by an experienced and licensed ENT doctor? If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions, we're here for you!

As a family ENT in Royal Oak MI, we've been diagnosing and treating sinusitis and rhinitis in adults and children for over 50 years. We've seen firsthand how relief from these conditions can drastically improve a patient's quality of life.

If you're having draining, tenderness, swelling, or other nasal and sinus discomfort, schedule a consultation with us -- you can reach us at (248) 737-4030. We can't wait to talk with you about your issues, and help you through the examination, diagnosis, and treatment process.