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What is the Difference Between Rhinitis and Sinusitis?

By Patti Kate
Updated Feb 15, 2024
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There are several differences between rhinitis and sinusitis. The major difference involves the pathology of these conditions. Rhinitis is not a disease or illness in itself, but it is blanket term for symptoms involving the nose, eyes, and throat. This may be due to seasonal allergies or the common cold. Sinusitis, commonly called a sinus infection, is an ailment that causes pain and pressure in the sinuses, typically caused by bacterial infection.

It is possible to suffer from both conditions simultaneously, as one set of symptoms may coincide with the other. For instance, rhinitis refers to symptoms such as a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and scratchy throat. These symptoms may be present with a sinus infection as well.

A respiratory infection such as the common cold or influenza can cause rhinitis symptoms and result in a secondary infection such as bronchitis or sinusitis. A cold that lingers for a long time may cause extreme nasal congestion and swollen nasal passages. Over days or weeks, swollen nasal passages that are unable to drain properly may allow pathogens to thrive. Mucus can become a prime breeding ground for bacteria and subsequently cause a sinus infection.

Although often caused by bacterial infection, sinusitis may also be present without infection. Allergic sinusitis causes swelling and inflammation, primarily in the sinus cavities. This leads to pressure and pain in the sinus region, which may be acute or chronic.

Sinusitis sufferers may feel pressure above the eyes or below the eye sockets. Pressure and pain may also be felt all around the orbital sockets and the bridge of the nose. The major difference between rhinitis and sinusitis is that rhinitis alone will not produce pain and pressure in the sinus cavities.

Individuals with sinusitis need to reduce swollen sinus passages and allow proper drainage. This may be done with the use of an oral decongestant or other methods. Steam therapy is helpful to many patients with sinusitis. In some severe cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery may be required. Required surgery is one major difference between rhinitis and sinusitis.

Surgery for sinusitis may be done on an out-patient basis and involve a procedure known as a sinoscopy. This endoscopic sinus procedure helps to unclog blocked maxillary and frontal sinus passages, allowing freer breathing. This minimally invasive procedure does not cut into bone or surrounding sinus tissue.

Surgery is a major differentiating factor between rhinitis and sinusitis. This is because rhinitis symptoms will never need endoscopic surgery unless sinusitis is a cause. Rhinitis symptoms will typically disappear on its own, without permanent or lasting complications.

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Discussion Comments

By Feryll — On Sep 10, 2014

When she was in college, my sister was having problems with her sinuses. She was getting chronic sinus infections and she was having trouble breathing through her nose at times. After putting it off for as long as she could, she decided to have surgery.

There was some discomfort after the surgery, but basically she didn't have any problems with the procedure or the recovery. To this day, she says she is so glad she had the surgery, and she wishes she had done it sooner.

By Animandel — On Sep 10, 2014

With all of the problems we are now having with infections becoming immune to antibiotics, I think more people should choose to find natural ways to treat their symptoms of sinus infection.

Of course, the surgery mentioned in this article will be necessary for some people with chronic sinus infections that won't go away and stay away. Still, I think many people would find that they are able to find natural cures for sinus infection symptoms, and they don't have to worry about side effects.

By Feryll — On Sep 09, 2014

My girlfriend has allergies, and at certain times of year she will get a runny nose and have sneezing attacks. I, on the other hand, have chronic sinus infections. She is always telling me to take the over-the-counter allergy pills she uses.

I try to explain to her that what she suffers from and what I suffer from are not the same condition. Allergy pills do nothing to treat my sinuses. I need something specifically for treatment of sinus infection, rather than something that may treat the sinus infection symptoms, but does not clear up the infection.

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