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Allergies Health Center

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Allergy Self-Diagnosis Leads to Misdiagnosis

Survey Shows Many Americans Confuse Allergies and Sinus Infections
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 18, 2011 -- Many people misdiagnose themselves as having allergies when they actually have sinusitis, a survey shows, and skip a visit to the doctor.

The survey was conducted by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).

The AAFA says that when people confuse sinusitis symptoms with signs of allergies, they often suffer longer than they would if they visited a doctor, who could make a proper diagnosis.

The AAFA says symptoms of sinusitis are similar to signs of allergies, but that too many people try to diagnose themselves.

According to a survey of 621 people, conducted online from a database of asthma and allergy patients, about 70% of sinusitis sufferers most trust a primary care doctor to correctly diagnose symptoms, yet only 36% go to one for help.

Self-Diagnosis Can Be Counterproductive

Among the findings of the survey:

  • 47% of respondents with sinusitis admit to self-diagnosing when they have symptoms.
  • 37% are doing more self-diagnosing now than they were five years ago.
  • 41% of those who say it is not easy to distinguish signs of allergies from signs of sinusitis still go ahead and diagnose themselves when they have symptoms.
  • 51% admit they have misdiagnosed themselves as suffering from allergies when the cause turned out to be sinusitis.
  • 39% say they think it's hard to tell the difference between the symptoms of a cold, flu, allergies, and sinusitis.
  • 55% of people who have heard of chronic sinusitis underestimate the minimum number of weeks this condition may last; 39% admit they don't have a clue about duration.
  • Only 26% of respondents who had heard of chronic sinusitis were aware that a minimally invasive treatment option exists for the condition.
  • 49% of respondents have never seen an ear, nose, and throat doctor about their sinusitis.

Allergies vs. Chronic Sinusitis

Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs at the AAFA, says in a news release that there's a key difference between allergies and chronic sinusitis.

"If you have allergy-like symptoms that last longer than 12 weeks, or symptoms that occur more than three times per year, with symptoms usually lasting more than 20 days despite treatment attempts, you may have chronic sinusitis and should see a doctor for a correct diagnosis and the right medical solution," he says.

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