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Sinus headaches – symptoms

What are sinuses?

The sinuses are air-filled cavities located close to the nasal passage. Mucus is produced by the sinuses, which purifies the air you inhale by removing bacteria and other unwanted particles from it.

Normally, sinuses only have a thin lining of this mucus. But sometimes your sinuses can get inflamed and infected causing the mucus to build-up and not drain out. The mucus build-up can cause significant pain, facial pressure, stuffy nose, and sinus headaches.

What are sinus headaches?

This article talks about sinus headaches, which can be debilitating and an annoyance. Sinus headaches can be a sign of sinus infections, which induce facial pressure and pain. When you have a cold or allergies, you are more likely to get sinus infections and headaches. However, there is a possibility that these sinus headaches have no relation to sinusitis. They could be because of migraines. If that is the case, your doctor can provide you long-term relief.

What causes sinus headaches?

Sinusitis disease or any kind of the sinus infection, which happens when there is significant mucus build-up in your nasal passage, can lead to sinus headaches. After the mucus build-up, germs begin to thrive, and they irritate your sinuses as they accumulate. As a result, sinus tissue swells, obstructing mucus passage. Your face feels tender and achy due to swollen, inflamed sinuses filled with fluid.

Some of the situations that can be causative to this state are presented here:


  • A common cold can cause sinus pain and facial pressure. This is the most common cause.
  • Nasal polyps can obstruct the mucus from draining if they enlarge in the nasal passage.
  • Deviated septum can prevent mucus drainage because the line of cartilage and bone dividing your nose into two parts is displaced.
  • Seasonal allergies can lead to the overproduction of mucus because your body is trying to protect you against allergens like pollen.


Symptoms of possible sinus headaches


  • Pain and pressure around your eyes, cheekbones, and forehead
  • No relief from the pain, especially if you lie down or bend
  • Fatigue and a general state of tiredness
  • Swelling or puffiness of the face
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Thick mucus discharge from the nose (nasal congestion)
  • Symptoms of sinus will give you a decreased sense of smell because of the mucus blockage, pain in upper teeth
  • Headache lasts for a day or two compared with the migraine pain, which is usually brief


If you do not have any nasal congestion, then it’s highly likely that your headache is not caused by sinus symptoms. You could be experiencing a migraine or a tension headache. But because migraines and sinus headaches hold similarities, it’s best to reach out to a doctor who can help with a definitive diagnosis. However, you must note that besides the pain and pressure around the forehead, migraines can also include symptoms like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

You should also reach out to your doctor if the headaches are recurring every two weeks, and if you have to take over-the-counter medication often. If these headaches are compromising your quality of life, and you are missing school, college, or work, then going to a doctor will be helpful.


Risk factors of sinus headaches

Sinus headaches can be experienced by anyone. If you are someone who already has migraines and headaches, has a family history of this condition, and has some hormonal issue or imbalance, then your vulnerability to sinus headaches can increase.


How are sinus headaches diagnosed?


Physical exam: If you have experienced chronic sinusitis symptoms or any form of sinus problems on a regular basis, then you should share that with your doctor before they conduct the physical exam. Usually, this involves the doctor peeking into your nasal passage and pressing gently around your face to test for the source of pain.


Imaging tests: If a physical exam does not prove fruitful and if your symptoms are severe, then imaging tests can give a comprehensive view of your sinuses. An magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can tell whether there is a presence of a potentially fatal brain condition. Other imagine tests include X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan, and a nasal endoscopy (a thin, flexible tube with a bright light attached to it takes a view of your nose and sinuses).


To treat sinus headaches, you need to first find and address the underlying causes of sinusitis. If the headache is due to sinusitis signs and symptoms, then your doctor will treat that condition. You may be asked to tackle the issue with at-home remedies like inhaling steam, using a decongestants or saline sprays to loosen the mucus, and to apply warm compress on areas where you feel the sinus pressure.


In case of a severe sinus infection, you will be given antibiotics or steroids, along with pain relievers for the headache. For migraines that cause sinus symptoms like nasal congestion, you will be given over-the-counter pain medicines or a prescription medication.


Sinus Prevention

By treating the underlying cause, you can avoid repeated sinus infections.  Seeing an allergy expert can help with allergic rhinitis that affects your sinuses. They may recommend that you undergo an allergy panel test to find out which allergens are triggering your body. You may need surgery to correct a deviated septum, and for nasal polyp removal.


Sinus headaches can be confounded with migraines, so treating those will be helpful to avoid confusion. Additionally, the inclusion of certain lifestyle changes may also prove beneficial to your condition for the long-term. These can be:


Avoiding caffeine and smoking: Both these substances are known sinus irritants. So, if you cannot completely quit them, slowly reducing the intake can also prove helpful. However, in the long run, smoking can have many adverse effects including cancer; so, quitting cigarettes is recommended.


Exercise: Incorporating some form of activity in your daily routine is helpful to your sleep and alleviating stress as well as helps your general well-being. Exercises that you can do with ease and do not put too much stress on your body, which can possibly trigger a headache, include walking, swimming, light jogging, cycling, and slow and light weightlifting.


Avoid certain foods: Alcohol, strong cheeses, and chocolate can also have inflammatory effects on your body. Avoiding them altogether or consuming them in moderation is recommended.


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