Sinus Headaches

What Are the Symptoms of a Sinus Headache?

August 1, 2023

6 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Kaplan, MD

Millions of people around the world deal with sinus infections every year. Those same people can often find it difficult to tell the difference between a regular headache and a sinus headache. What are the symptoms of a sinus headache, and what can you do about it once you know you have one?

To some, sinus headaches may seem like a mild inconvenience to be endured during cold and flu season, but chronic sinus headaches can be incredibly painful, not to mention disruptive to daily life. 

In this article, we will explore the symptoms of sinus headaches, delve into their underlying causes, highlight the key differences between sinus headaches and migraines, and provide effective strategies for relieving sinus headache discomfort.

What can trigger sinus headaches?

When talking about what causes sinus headaches, the real question is: what causes sinus pressure? Understanding what is causing your sinus pressure is crucial to eventually finding relief. Several factors can contribute to sinus headaches, but the more common causes include:

  • Sinus infections are the most common cause of sinus headaches, also known as sinusitis. When the sinuses become infected by viruses, bacteria, or fungi, they can become inflamed.
  • Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, pets, or other airborne allergens can cause inflammation in the sinuses.
  • Nasal polyps, or other non-cancerous growths in the nasal passages known as nasal polyps can obstruct the sinuses.
  • Deviated septums can restrict proper airflow through the nose and cause sinus pressure. 
  • Environmental factors like air pollution, smoke, sudden changes in weather conditions, and even strong odors can trigger sinus headaches.

What all of these causes have in common is that they cause a blockage of the sinus drain channels, which creates excessive pressure throughout the sinuses. 

How do you know if you have a sinus headache?

So, what are the symptoms of a sinus headache? Sinus headaches are often diagnosable by the following symptoms: 

  • Deep, unwavering pain along your forehead, cheekbones, or the bridge of your nose
  • Pain that intensifies with a quick movement of the head or any sort of straining
  • Pain that intensifies if you lie down or bend forward
  • Facial swelling
  • Fever
  • Thick/discolored nasal discharges
  • Feeling that your ears are full
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Stuffy nose
  • Limited sense of smell 
  • Aches along the upper teeth/cheeks

You can often tell when you have a sinus headache because the headache persists as long as the sinus problems persist. Waking up with sinus headaches for multiple days in a row is often an indication that your headache is actually a sinus infection headache and that your sinus infection will need to be treated before the headache will subside. 

For most, the telltale sign of a sinus headache is a fever. A legitimate sinus headache is often caused by a sinus blockage like an infection that results in an increase in the body’s temperature. A blockage in the sinus can typically be identified by a physical exam combined with a doctor’s analysis of the patient’s medical history. However, some situations require a CT or MRI scan to verify that the patient’s pain is indeed caused by a sinus issue.

Difference between a sinus headache and a migraine

What is the difference between a sinus headache vs a migraine? Unfortunately, a large number of people tend to label every type of headache as a chronic/migraine headache. The truth is that chronic headaches are the result of causes unrelated to the sinuses. There is a clear distinction between the symptoms of the two types of headaches, and each has its own unique treatment. 

People often confuse the two because their symptoms sometimes overlap, but patients should be aware of the fact that 90% of patients who see a physician for a sinus headache actually have a regular headache. 

If you experience a headache accompanied by vomiting, nausea, or irritation due to bright light/noises, you are likely suffering from a migraine headache rather than a sinus headache. Migraine headaches also bring about nasal pain, including an increase in facial pressure, congestion, and clear, watery nasal discharge.

How do you get rid of a sinus headache?

Wondering how to stop a sinus headache? Sinus headache treatment often means stopping the underlying cause of the sinus pressure and managing those symptoms. Some strategies for relieving sinus pressure include:

  • Nasal irrigation using a saline nasal spray
  • Steam inhalation from either a hot steam shower or a humidifier 
  • Using a warm facial compress
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications as directed by a physician
  • Allergy management through the use of OTC antihistamines 

Although these methods can help alleviate sinus pressure by addressing their underlying conditions, it is possible that your sinus headaches will persist until you receive medical attention. Whether you’re getting sinus headaches every day because of an infection or a deviated septum, many of the underlying causes of sinus pressure will need to be addressed by a professional. 

How long does a sinus headache last? Because sinusitis is often caused by sinus infections and other underlying conditions, sinus headaches can last days, or longer. If you are experiencing sinus headaches every day make sure to contact your doctor to begin treating the underlying causes as soon as possible. 

Continue reading: How to relieve sinus pressure

Treat sinus headaches at the source with Kaplan Sinus Relief

Now that you know the answer to the question “what are the symptoms of a sinus headache,” you can begin your sinus headache treatment at the source. Don’t let debilitating and persistent sinus headaches interrupt your life. Talk to a sinus specialist and take the first step on the road to relief today. 

Whether you need to treat your underlying allergies, an infection, or have non-cancerous growths that need to be removed, Kaplan Sinus Relief is here to help you breathe easy. 

Dr. Kaplan is a Board Certified medical doctor and sinus specialist who pioneered the revolutionary balloon sinuplasty procedure. If you or a loved one has been dealing with chronic sinus headaches and need a specialist to chart the path toward relief, schedule an appointment with Kaplan Sinus Relief today. 

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