What's the Difference? Sinusitis vs. Rhinitis

AdobeStock_150276966_small.jpgSinusitis and rhinitis - they both sound similar, so what’s the difference? Is it even that important to know? Knowing the difference can be helpful, especially when it comes to healthcare. Here’s how to know one from the other, and what they both mean when it comes to your sinuses.


Otherwise known as a sinus infection, sinusitis takes place when the linings of your sinuses become inflamed due to infection. This kind of infection can originate from bacteria or a virus. In very rare circumstances, the infection could also be caused by a fungus. Congestion can also lead to sinusitis through prolonged swelling or an obstruction such as a nasal polyp.

Sinusitis is a condition that can occur several times during the year, acute sinusitis can last anywhere between two and four weeks, and chronic sinusitis can last more than twelve weeks. In any case, sinusitis caused by bacteria is not contagious. Sinusitis caused by a virus is contagious though.


Rhinitis is an allergic reaction of your body to allergens. So if you suffer from allergy symptoms, you’re experiencing rhinitis. This can happen seasonally, or year-round. When it does occur year-round it’s referred to as chronic rhinitis.

So are sinusitis and rhinitis the same? No. They are easy to confuse though because they share some of the same symptoms, such as stuffy nose, fatigue, and excess mucus. Beyond that, the symptoms are different because sinusitis is caused by infection, and rhinitis is caused by allergens.

Can rhinitis lead to sinusitis?

If rhinitis (or allergy) symptoms are prolonged and more intense, it is possible that an infection could develop in overly congested sinus cavities. In that case, you’d have both rhinitis and sinusitis.

It is possible to treat both conditions at home with over-the-counter medications, but only if your symptoms are not chronic or only occur occasionally. For chronic conditions, you should seek medical care so that you don’t run the risk of impacting your health in the long term. If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call at 706-248-6860.