Unfortunately, headaches are a common condition for most people—especially those who suffer from inflamed sinuses.
When the sinus passages behind your eyes, nose, cheeks and forehead are inflamed, you may experience a sinus headache. You may notice pain or pressure around your sinuses.
If you deal with sinusitis, sinus headaches are par for the course. Those who suffer from allergies are also more prone to sinus headaches.
So, what should you do if you feel a sinus headache coming on? We’re breaking down everything you need to know.
How do I know if I have a sinus headache?
If you have a sinus headache, you will most likely notice that the pain gets worse as you lean forward.
Sinus headaches are also commonly accompanied by green or yellow nasal discharge and pressure behind your forehead.
It’s also normal for someone with sinusitis to feel fatigued and to develop an aching sensation in the top jaw.
Sinus headaches are also commonly confused with migraines. In fact, according to The Mayo Clinic, 90 percent of those who see a provider for what they believe is a sinus headache are diagnosed with a migraine instead.
It’s a good idea to be seen by a provider if you think you have a sinus headache so you can get properly diagnosed; the treatment for migraines are different than sinus headaches.
If you feel nauseous and dizzy or notice a sensitivity to light, there’s a good chance you are experiencing a migraine, not a sinus headache.
What causes a sinus headache?
The most common cause of a sinus headache is sinusitis—a condition in which allergies cause the sinus to become inflamed.
It’s also possible that sinus headaches can be triggered by a regular sinus infection or sinus blockage.
Seasonal allergies that last longer than can be expected, also known as hay fever, may also cause a sinus headache.
How to treat a sinus headache
When you have a sinus headache, the first thing you want is relief. In most cases, a sinus infection will go away on its own.
However, if you are able to thin out the congestion that is inside your sinuses, it may offer some relief in the meantime. A humidifier or sinus irrigation tool can help.
You may also want to try applying a damp, warm washcloth on your sinuses to help relieve the pressure.
If you’re experiencing jaw pain as a result of sinusitis, ibuprofen or acetaminophen can make a big difference. Although these medications won’t treat the underlying issue, they may offer some temporary relief.
Sinus headaches vs. migraines
Those who suffer from allergies with a runny nose are 10 times more likely to also suffer from a migraine.
Because the symptoms of a sinus headache are also the signs of a migraine, the two are easily confused.
Many people believe that sinus and breathing problems can cause migraines. While this has not been proven, it does seem that there could be a link between the two.
It is also believed that specific foods, activities and other conditions may trigger migraines.
A runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes and pressure in the forehead and cheeks all point to both a sinus headache and a migraine.
The biggest difference between the two is the snot in your nose. If it appears yellow or pus-like, it’s a good sign you are suffering from a sinus headache. However, clear drainage is indicative of a migraine.
With a sinus headache, you may also experience a fever or foul-smelling breath. A migraine, on the other hand, is often accompanied by nausea, low appetite, sensitivity to light and sound and dizziness.
Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from a migraine.
If you’re still unsure whether you are suffering from a sinus headache or migraine, ask yourself if your headaches have interfered with your daily life over the last three months. If the answer is yes, it’s most likely a migraine.
Can sinus headaches be prevented?
In some cases, sinusitis or seasonal allergies may lead to reoccurring sinus headaches.
If this happens to you, it may be time to think about prescription medication to keep your allergies under control.
Making changes to your lifestyle, like adding aerobic exercise into your fitness regimen, can greatly reduce the number of headaches you get.
If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, your provider may recommend a nasal surgery called balloon sinuplasty to prevent sinus headaches.
Are there complications of sinus headaches?
Although rare, it is possible to develop complications from a sinus headache.
The most common complication is swelling and inflammation around the eye that can affect your vision.
Because a sinus headache can be indicative of an underlying issue, if you experience a lingering high fever, a rattling sound in your chest or trouble breathing, you should see a provider.
If you develop a sinus headache, it’s a good idea to visit a provider since your headache may be caused by a sinus infection.
Your provider can assess your symptoms and make sure you aren’t dealing with a migraine or other issue.
Even if you’ve already been sign by a provider, but your headaches become more often and more severe or do not improve with over-the-counter medication, you should visit a provider.
At CareNow®, our more than 100 locations throughout the country are open after hours and on the weekend, when a general physician’s office is closed. Each of our clinics is staffed with qualified physicians who are ready to serve you.
You can also wait at home instead of the lobby by using our Web Check-In® feature.
In very rare cases, it’s possible a severe headache can result in a serious health condition like a stroke, encephalitis or meningitis.
If you are having trouble understanding speech, have a fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, feel faint or are unable to move one side of your body, you should seek emergency care immediately.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.