Sinus Headaches

Sudden Sinus Pressure Causes and Solutions

July 2, 2020

5 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

The onset of sudden sinus pressure can be debilitating. Headaches, facial pressure, and that throbbing pain when you bend over can ruin your day. But when you experience these symptoms on a regular basis, the effects of sudden sinus pressure extend beyond these primary symptoms. 

Sudden sinus pressure indicates that something has triggered a reaction in your sinuses tissues, causing them to swell and limit or prohibit proper sinus drainage. Discover what may be occuring when you experience sudden sinus pressure and what can be done to find long-lasting relief. 

What causes sinus pressure?

The sinuses themselves are simply cavities — hollow spaces that produce mucus to help protect you from allergens, dust, and pollutants. Each of your eight sinuses have what’s called an ostium, an opening for drainage. If it gets blocked, you wind up with a bottleneck of mucus which causes the dull, persistent ache behind your eyes and cheekbones that comes with sudden sinus pressure.

Sinus blockage typically occurs when your sinus tissues have become swollen. There are numerous environmental factors that can contribute to this swelling. Sensitivities to seasonal allergies or certain foods may trigger swelling in your sinuses that can cause mucus buildup and sudden sinus pressure. The presence of other irritants such as smoke or of an infection can also lead to swelling. 

Finally, the next time you feel a sinus headache coming on, consider checking the weather.  Sinus pressure from weather changes are actually caused by changes in barometric pressure. Furthermore, dry air, though rare in Houston, can cause dehydration and dry out sinus cavities, making them 50% more likely to attract bacteria.

Can stress and anxiety cause sinus pressure?

Stress and anxiety can have negative effects on your sinuses, in addition to your overall health  — so yes, you can experience sinus pressure from stress. Sustained stress weakens the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses, allergens, and sinus infections. Some stress-related bacteria eat away at the cilia in your sinuses that normally catch particles that cause irritation or infection. Healthy eating and exercise habits, along with breathing or meditation exercises, can improve your body’s response to stress.

Can sinus infections come on suddenly?

If you find yourself experiencing not just sudden sinus pressure, but also nasal congestion, fever, and excess mucus, you may have a sinus infection. But how do you know if it’s from bacteria or a virus? As we learn more about sinus infections, the current best practice is to go by duration rather than symptoms.

Having congestion, fever, and yellow or green mucus can occur with either viral or bacterial sinus infections. The key difference in determining which type you have is how long it lasts — most viral infections improve in about five to seven days. If your symptoms persist beyond 10 days or get worse, bacteria is the likely culprit. Knowing the difference is important, so you don’t take unnecessary antibiotics.

How do you relieve sinus pressure?

Sudden sinus pressure is often disruptive and painful, so it’s important to understand how to relieve it. We’ve compiled a few home remedies that may help ease sinus pain and pressure:

1. Keep warm and humid

A lot like our Houston weather! Using a warm compress on your face can help open blocked sinus passages and reduce swelling (as an added bonus, it’s also relaxing). Breathing in steam can also be a big help — just let the shower run in your closed bathroom or trap steam by pouring hot water into a bowl and placing a towel over it, then release the steam.

2. Use a saline nose spray or neti pot

Saline spray or sinus irrigation can help flush out harmful bacteria that cause swelling in the sinuses, blocking mucus from draining properly. It helps move mucus through sinus passages so it can drain. Just make sure to use distilled water or water that’s recently been sterilized with boiling when clearing your sinuses with these methods. 

3. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water when you feel sinus pressure start to come on. Staying hydrated gives your body energy and keeps your sinuses functioning healthily.

4. Take over-the-counter meds if appropriate

Decongestants, expectorants, and anti-inflammatories can be helpful in the short term but always check with your doctor to ensure over-the-counter remedies won’t interfere with any conditions you have or medications you take. When used incorrectly, OTC medication can actually make sinus issues worse. 

5. Bring on the spice

The best foods for sinus pressure can help mucus drain — you’ve probably felt your nose run from eating wasabi, curry, or spicy mustard. Garlic and onions can also stimulate your nasal passages, helping clear sinus blockage, and ginger is full of antihistamines, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants that can reduce pain and swelling.

6. Tread lightly

Working out with sinus pressure is unlikely to sound appealing, and in many cases is not recommended. However, certain exercises — particularly yoga and walking — can increase circulation, boost endorphins, and reduce swelling and congestion by contracting blood vessels. However, you should avoid more strenuous activities such as running, weightlifting, and cycling, which can aggravate your risk for complications.

Dealing with sudden sinus pressure? Balloon sinuplasty from Kaplan Sinus Relief may be the answer.

If you’ve experienced sinus pain, pressure, and infections for more than 12 weeks, you may have chronic sinusitis. Dr. Kaplan is expert in balloon sinuplasty, a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that provides long-lasting relief from chronic sinus infections. To learn more, call Kaplan Sinus Relief at 713-766-1818 and schedule an appointment today.

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