The Difference Between a Sinus Headache vs. a Migraine

October 14, 2022

5 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Struggling to tell the difference between a sinus headache vs. migraine? You’re not the only one. Migraine headaches and sinus headaches stem from headache disorders that carry similar symptoms, including pain in the head (particularly the forehead), itchy or watery eyes, nasal congestion, and facial pressure over the sinuses. Because the two illnesses seem to be the same, it can be hard to distinguish the type of treatment you need, or where you should go for medical help.

To help you understand the difference between trouble with your sinuses vs. a headache vs. a migraine, we’ve created a careful evaluation of each condition.

How can I tell if it’s a migraine or sinus headache?

Here are some key factors to consider when trying to figure out if you are experiencing a sinus headache vs. a migraine.

Pain location

In the question of sinus headache vs. migraine, one of the most distinguishing features is where the pain is felt. Sinus headaches are typically felt in the face, where the sinuses are, whereas migraines cause pain in other parts of the head such as the temples, forehead, or the back of the head. Migraines are often felt on only one side of the head while sinus headaches can be felt on both sides of the face.


As mentioned before, sinus and migraine symptoms can be similar to one another. However, there are certain symptoms that are unique to each disorder. 

If a person has a migraine, they may experience:

  • Throbbing pain in certain areas of the head
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to sound or light

The main triggers of migraines are not fully understood. However, factors such as genetics and environmental conditions are known to play a vital role. In addition, imbalances in the brain as well as variations in the brainstem and its interactions with major pain pathways can trigger migraines. Skipping meals or fasting can also be a cause of migraine headaches.

If a person has a sinus headache, they may experience…

  • Pain and pressure in the forehead, cheekbones, or bridge of the nose
  • Face swelling 
  • A full feeling in the ears
  • Congestion and/or a runny nose (it is very unlikely to have a sinus headache without congestion)
  • Yellow mucus
  • Coughing 

A sinus headache is caused by built-up pressure in the sinus cavities when the nasal passages can no longer drain properly. This inflammation is known as sinusitis and can be triggered by allergies or other types of infections. Some people have chronic sinusitis, which means that their sinuses are constantly inflamed. 


How long do sinus headaches last? Sinus headaches can last up to two weeks or more, depending on the severity of your sinus infection. Although some sinus headaches can go away on their own, it’s best to treat your sinus infection so that complications don’t form such as loss of smell.  

Migraine headaches, on the other hand, are much shorter typically lasting for 2-72 hours without treatment. However, the pain associated with migraines can be so severe that it hinders you from performing daily activities. 

Can sinus pressure cause a migraine? Not necessarily. The two types of headaches are independent of each other and have unique treatment options that should not be mixed and matched. Treating a sinus headache with migraine medication can only worsen your symptoms and vice versa, so be sure to visit a medical professional to ensure you get the correct treatment. 


How do you get rid of a sinus or migraine headache? Treatment for migraines should be discussed with your doctor and may include a migraine preventative plan and prescriptions to lessen pain and reduce nausea. 

For how to get rid of a sinus headache, however, you have a few options for treatment. At-home remedies can include taking over-the-counter pain relievers to manage pain, using a humidifier or nasal spray to open up the nasal passageways, or using a warm compress on your face to soothe the pressure. Although these home remedies can be effective, we encourage anyone experiencing sinus problems to see a sinus specialist to get to the root of your sinus problems. Your physician will usually prescribe antibiotics together with antihistamines and decongestants to lessen the symptoms. Occasionally, if needed, corticosteroids are also used to decrease inflammation. 

It’s important to understand the underlying cause of your headaches so that proper treatment can take place.

The specialists at Kaplan Sinus Relief can help you distinguish between a sinus headache vs. migraine!

Whether you’re dealing with a sinus headache vs. a migraine, you’re likely experiencing a lot of discomfort. When you’re unsure of your symptoms, or what’s causing them, it’s always best to get a medical professional’s opinion. 

If you are looking for long-term sinus headache relief, Michael Kaplan, M.D., the founding sinus specialist of Kaplan Sinus Relief, has just the solution for you: balloon sinuplasty. Balloon sinuplasty in Houston when performed by Dr. Kaplan is a quick, minimally invasive, and virtually painless procedure that uses a small balloon to restore proper drainage to the sinuses. This procedure gets to the root of sinus problems and can make painful sinus headaches a thing of the past.

Interested in learning more? Call (713) 766-1818 or schedule an appointment online with Kaplan Sinus Relief.

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