Can Allergies Turn Into a Sinus Infection?

Allergies occur when your immune system goes to war with a toxin or foreign particle in your environment. Because of the sinus inflammation and extra mucus, a bad allergy flare-up can set the stage for a sinus infection.

Samuel S. Becker, M.D., Partner
4-minute read

According to physicians with Becker ENT & Allergy, a group of allergists practicing in Philadelphia & New Jersey, you must keep your sinuses moist as you work your way out of a sinus flare-up. No matter the cause of the inflammation, dry, inflamed sinus tissue will be extremely uncomfortable and may even become more inflamed over time.

Inflammation leads to mucus pooling

One of the biggest challenges with a bad allergy flare-up is that your sinus tissue becomes inflamed. Mucus that needs to drain can't, and that pooled mucus becomes an ideal spot for bacteria to grow.

Once your sinuses are hosting an overgrowth of bacteria, you have a sinus infection.

Sinus pain considerations

When your allergies flare up, your eyes may itch. You may also have a sore patch under your nose from the constant dripping and wiping. You might even develop a skin rash as your body reacts to the environmental toxins.

A bad sinus infection can lead to pain. If your sinuses are so clogged that your face hurts, you're probably headed for a sinus infection. You may feel pressure under your cheekbone or a sense of fullness along the roof of your mouth.

An additional challenge of sinus infections is that the mucus can drain into your stomach overnight, leaving you with an upset stomach and sour breath.

Check your mucus

Generally speaking, if your mucus secretions are clear, the likely culprit is allergies. If the mucus is yellow, you're either headed for a sinus infection or suffering from a cold. If the discharge is green or isn't moving at all, you may need an antibiotic or medication to rapidly decrease the inflammation and promote drainage.

It's important to take note of when you experience an upswing in mucus production. If your allergies are bad, your nose will drip. If you've got a cold, your nose will run even more or become stuffy. With sinusitis or a possible sinus infection, your nose feels clogged and the congestion makes your cheeks and top teeth hurt.

Monitor your allergies

If you don't know what you're allergic to, do your best to find out. You may be able to reduce the severity of your allergic reactions by starting your meds a little earlier than you have in years past, or by getting preventive shots to lessen your body's response.

When you discover your triggers, you can make changes to reduce your allergy discomfort. If it's dust mites, you can update your bedding. For those who struggle with allergies to certain trees or plants, it may be time to plan a vacation when they're in bloom. You may even want to avoid neighborhoods that have a high density of certain flowering trees.

While many municipalities have gotten away from it, there are older neighborhoods that have a high concentration of certain flowering trees. For example, in the Midwest, the Bradford Pear was quite popular. However, if the whole neighborhood blooms within the same week and you know you're allergic, you may want to be on vacation or working from home so you can keep the windows closed and reduce your allergic reactions.

When things get chronic

If you've had a sinus infection and suffered from inflammation for three months or more, you may have chronic sinusitis. This can lead to scarring, and can actually trigger pain and problems in your ear and upper jaw.

To avoid developing chronic sinusitis, take care to:

  • Avoid people with colds
  • Stay on top of your allergy medications
  • Avoid polluted air
  • Keep the air in your bedroom moist with a humidifier

Understand the risk of spreading

On rare occasions, chronic sinusitis will spread to other areas of your body. In this event, you can develop an inflammation in the lining of your brain or down your spine. You might also develop an infection in your bones or skin.

This infection also lives in the same zip code as your eyes, because it can impact your whole head. If you have always had trouble with your sinuses and notice any sudden vision changes, see your physician immediately.

Sinus infections and allergies

A bad allergic flare-up doesn't always have to turn into a sinus infection, but allergy-related inflammation and mucus provide an excellent breeding ground for a sinus infection.

Take care to keep your fluid levels up. If you notice any stomach upset, consider eating something with a bit of acid, such as tomato soup, in the middle of the day. Additional acid in your tummy can help to move the mucus that drained from your sinuses into your stomach further down the digestive tract.

Do your best to avoid extremely starchy foods during a bad allergy flare-up. You may want comfort food, but your stomach will have enough to deal with if your sinuses are draining into it. Instead, make sure you eat plenty of roughage and drink warm teas and cups of broth to keep your digestive tract functioning well.

Sinuses and your taste buds

It's your sense of smell that makes things taste good, but if your sinuses are inflamed, you won't be able to smell things as they truly are. You may be tempted to eat highly flavorful food.

If you like sushi, consider trying some with a little wasabi. Although current research indicates that wasabi is not a great decongestant, try some anyhow if you're feeling stuck because your sinuses are a mess and nothing tastes right. This powerful radish product can give a jolt to your taste buds and help you remember what food tastes like. If you don't like sushi, try something (like steak or a roast beef sandwich) with horseradish on it.

Remember, allergies won't always cause a sinus infection. And you can also get a sinus infection while not struggling with allergies.

Pay attention to your eyes and face. If they're watery and itchy, it's probably allergies. If they're puffy and painful, it may be sinusitis.

About Becker ENT & Allergy

Samuel S. Becker, M.D., is a board-certified specialist and expert in the fields of otolaryngology and sinonasal disorders, to name a few. He and his team at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy have successfully treated countless patients in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

About the Author

Samuel S. Becker, M.D., Partner

Samuel S. Becker, M.D., is a board-certified specialist and expert in the fields of otolaryngology and sinonasal disorders, to name a few. He and his team at Penn Medicine Becker ENT & Allergy have successfully treated countless patients in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.