Sinusitis or Sinus Pressure: When to See a Health Professional

It’s always a disruption when you have allergies, no matter what time of year it is. The problem is that allergy and cold symptoms feel just like a sinus infection, aka sinusitis, so sufferers are often unsure what they’re dealing with and which remedy to use. 

Any of these conditions bring with them the pain and misery of sinus pressure and other symptoms, including runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, congestion, coughing, sneezing, and a sore throat. It’s easy to assume that the condition is worse than it is when you feel so bad. This guide will discuss sinusitis, how it differs from colds and allergies, what you can do to manage the symptoms at home, and when you need to see a doctor.

Sinus Infection Vs. Colds and Allergies

Sinus Infection Vs. Colds and Allergies

It might seem unfair that some of the most common ailments are difficult to tell apart and tough to remedy. Understanding a bit about what causes them is a good first step to identifying which one you have. Here are the basics of these three ailments:

Common Coll

Colds are called “common” because they happen often and are over within a few days. Viruses cause them, most often the rhinovirus, after they enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Colds spread easily through airborne particles and direct contact.  


Allergies, or allergic diseases, are caused by the immune system’s hypersensitivity to a particular substance in the environment. Plant pollens and grass in the air are a few things that cause allergic reactions in many people. Exposure to these allergens causes allergic rhinitis, bringing on sneezing, itchy eyes, sinus pressure, and many symptoms similar to those of a cold.


Sinusitis is an infection in the nasal cavity and sinuses. Mucus blocks the sinuses, causing swelling and an inability to drain, leading to pain, sinus pressure, and infection. It’s a more serious condition, and if left untreated, it can progress to something worse, such as laryngitis, orbital cellulitis, and even meningitis in rare cases. 

Sinus infections are either acute or chronic. Those accompanying a cold or other respiratory illnesses, such as an earache and allergies, are often considered acute and typically last four weeks or less. Chronic sinus infections recur and last longer than 12 weeks, and they require antibiotic or antimicrobial herbal treatment.

Most symptoms of sinusitis are the same as those of an upper respiratory illness, making it difficult to know if or when to visit a health care professional. A few telltale signs can indicate that those symptoms are taking a turn for the worst, however.

Signs Sinus Pressure Might Be Sinusitis

Woman suffering from sinus pressure

It’s hard to concentrate when you’re suffering from a cold or sinus infection symptoms, but paying attention to what’s happening in your body can alert you to potential problems. There are many over-the-counter medications to ease cold symptoms, but run-of-the-mill symptoms that progress into those listed below mean it’s time to see a doctor.

Intense Sinus Pressure

Sinus pressure accompanies many upper respiratory illnesses, but it’s probably progressed to infection when it causes facial tenderness and is painful to the touch. 


A fever is a sign that the body is fighting off infection. That’s why people don’t usually have a fever with a common cold or allergies. 

Nasal Discharge

Nasal discharge, or mucus, from a cold is usually clear, while mucus from an infection is green or yellow. Mucus can run from the nostrils or down the throat, which is called post-nasal drip. 

Head Pain

Infection causes pain. Sinusitis will cause a throbbing from the constant swelling and sinus pressure of the infection. It can manifest as jaw pain, headaches, and earaches.

These symptoms aren’t just painful but also disruptive to daily life. Antibiotics are needed to clear up most chronic sinus infections, but there are many ways to deal with the pain and distraction of the symptoms. 

4 Ways to Manage Symptoms of Sinus Pressure and Infection

Ways to Manage Symptoms of Sinus pressure

The 12 or more weeks it can take to clear up acute sinusitis can be torture without some form of relief from the symptoms. A minor cold or allergies can even get you down. Here are some effective ways to help you feel better and give your immune system a helpful boost.  

1. Herbal Treatments

Lots of herbs and plant derivatives have anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting properties. Some are specifically helpful for sinusitis. Oregon grape root helps fight infection. Onion, garlic, and horseradish support immunity and clear sinuses. Herbal treatments take many forms, such as supplements, teas and beverages, edibles, creams, and ointments. 

2. Nasal Irrigation

Using a neti pot rinses away a lot of the pathogens and germs causing the infection. It uses sterilized water or saline to push the infected mucus through the nasal canal and out of the nostrils. Add other things like herbal oils and medicines to the water for additional benefits.

3. Over-The-Counter Medicine

Nasal spray can help with congestion and painful, dried nasal passages. Medicines such as Allegra and Sudafed help alleviate common symptoms such as headaches, congestions, and coughs. These types of medications are only a short-term fix, however. 

4. Dietary Changes

The foods you eat affect how you feel. A lot of refined sugars and fast foods restrict the body’s infection-fighting capabilities. Reducing the intake of processed foods helps boost immunity. A diet full of foods that fight inflammation and infection, such as grapefruit, turmeric, ginger, and tomatoes, is imperative.

Sinus pressure and pain from even a common cold are debilitating and can ruin the better part of a week. It’s important to see a doctor if symptoms progress to keep serious health complications from setting in. 

A Naturopathic Doctor to Address Your Health Issues

Over-the-counter medications are only one way of treating sinus pressure. There are many natural, effective alternatives. Dr. Karen Threlkel is a naturopathic doctor serving primarily women (and women’s health concerns) in the greater D.C. area. 

Dr. Karen Threlkel provides a holistic approach to medicine (mind-body-spirit) and natural-focused remedies for treating symptoms and underlying conditions. Contact Dr. Threlkel to schedule a consultation for more information about natural sinus pressure treatments or to learn more about natural remedies. 

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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