When To See a Doctor

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When To See a Doctor For Sinus and Allergy Symptoms

Allergies are no fun for anyone. As if the itchy, watery eyes and runny nose weren’t bad enough – allergy attacks can also bring on sinus pain and pressure.

But what is an allergy, exactly? Allergies are an immune reaction to substances that are usually harmless. The body then attacks these substances in order to try to get rid of them.1

While this kind of attack is helpful with sickness-causing germs, it’s not so helpful with harmless allergens. When the body encounters and attacks an allergen, it produces chemical called histamine. It is actually this histamine – not the mold or pet hair – that causes allergy symptoms, including nasal passage swelling, a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.1 Sometimes, allergies can be severe, causing allergic reactions that require immediate medical attention.

Your sinuses, those important air-filled sacs in your skull, are normally germ-free.2 But if too much mucus blocks the sinus openings, as can happen with allergies, bacteria can thrive and multiply2 – and then what? Then you may develop sinusitis.

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungal infections. Acute, or short-term, sinusitis can last from two to twelve weeks,2,3 while chronic – or long-term – sinusitis lasts much longer.2,3

Some symptoms of both acute and chronic sinusitis can include:2

  • Headache
  • Facial pain
  • Toothache
  • Eye pain
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat and postnasal drip
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling generally sick
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of sense of smell

Home treatment can be very helpful for managing sinus pain and pressure. Try applying a warm, moist washcloth to your face and forehead several times a day.2 Inhale steam from the shower or a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head.2 Drink plenty of liquids and use saline nasal spray to thin mucus and promote drainage,2 and use a humidifier if your home or work environment is dry.2

Call your health professional if:2

  • Your symptoms last longer than 10-14 days or you have a cold that gets worse after 7 days.
  • You have a severe headache, unrelieved by over-the-counter pain medicine.
  • You have a fever.
  • You still have symptoms after taking all of your antibiotics properly.
  • You have any changes in your vision during a sinus infection.


  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Tips to remember: indoor allergens. Available at:
    http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/indoorallergens.stm. Accessed August 2010.
  2. US Medline Plus. Sinusitis. Available at:
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000647.htm. Accessed August 2010.
  3. UK NHS Choices. Sinusitis. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sinusitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed August 2010.