Sinus Headache – What Kind of Headache Do You Have?

March 24, 2016

3 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

When a sinus becomes inflamed, the inflammation causes swelling and more mucus is produced which can cause blockage in the channels where it would otherwise flow and drain away. The added pressure in the sinus causes pain similar to the pain felt with a headache.

Symptoms of Sinus Headaches

It is not uncommon for a chronic headache to be mistaken for a sinus headache. Chronic headaches are typically migraine or tension headaches. If your problem really is sinus headaches, one of the symptoms you will have is a fever. Sinus headaches will also cause a pain that is deep and constant either on the bridge of the nose, the forehead or the cheekbones. There will also be a feeling of fullness in the ears, swelling in the face and nasal discharge.

Diagnosis of Sinus Headaches

It is important to get the diagnosis right in order to get lasting relief from the problem of a sinus headache. About 90% of those who go to see the doctor for sinus headaches are found to have migraine headaches. Sinus headaches and migraine headaches are both made worse by bending forward and both have the symptoms of congestion, a feeling of facial pressure and nasal discharge.

Your history and a physical exam are usually enough for the doctor to determine whether your sinuses are blocked. However, CT and MRI scans are required in some cases. Blood tests and X-rays are usually not required.

Treatment of Sinus Headaches

Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation in the sinus passages so that they can drain and reduce the pressure that causes a sinus headache. It is not always necessary to take antibiotics. Treatment will usually include a dose of antihistamine medication such as Benadryl or decongestants like Sudafed. You may also be given an inhaled nasal decongestant like Afrin but this is only taken for three days to avoid the rebound effect that can make symptoms worse with prolonged use.

Sinus infections are also treated with pain relievers or corticosteroids, which are given to reduce inflammation. In cases where the problem is being caused by an allergen, preventive allergy therapy is often needed. The symptoms can also be eased with simple measures like taking more fluids or using a nasal spray.

When to See the Doctor

It is important to see a doctor if;

  1. You suffer with headaches for more than 10 days in a month and are often taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
  2. It takes longer and longer for the pain medication to work or you need stronger medication.

Those with a personal or family history of migraines and those undergoing hormonal changes associated with headaches are more prone to sinus headaches.


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