We assessed whether complement and its factor C4 or abnormal immunoglobulin levels are associated with chronic or recurrent rhinosinusitis. We used multiple patient and control groups to obtain clinically meaningful data. Adult chronic or recurrent rhinosinusitis and acute purulent rhinosinusitis patients were compared with unselected adults and controls without previous rhinosinusitis. Associated clinical factors were reviewed. Levels of immunoglobulins, plasma C3, C4 and classical pathway haemolytic activity were analysed. C4 immunophenotyping was used to detect C4A and C4B deficiencies as null alleles. Complement was up-regulated in rhinosinusitis. C4A nulls and low IgA, IgG, IgG1, IgG2, IgG3 and IgG4 levels were all more common in chronic or recurrent rhinosinusitis patients than in unselected and healthy controls. We searched for relevant differences between the patient groups. According to stepwise logistic regression analysis, nasal polyposis [odds ratio (OR) 10·64, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2·5–45·7, P = 0·001], bronchial asthma (OR 8.87, 95% CI 2·3–34·9, P = 0·002), C4A null alleles (OR 5·84, 95% CI 1·4–24·9, P = 0·017) and low levels of IgG4 together with either IgG1 or IgG2 (OR 15·25, 95% CI 1·4–166·8, P = 0·026) were more common in chronic or recurrent rhinosinusitis than in acute rhinosinusitis patients. Isolated low IgG subclasses had limited value in patient assessment. C4A null alleles are associated with chronic or recurrent rhinosinusitis, potentially through their effect on immune defence and inflammation control. Multiple clinical and immunological parameters may need to be evaluated when searching for prognostic variables.