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Sinus Headaches

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Sinus headaches are painful, but can be treated and avoided with medical care.

Sinus headaches are often confused with migraines or tension headaches. True sinus headaches are less common than other headache types, and indicate underlying problems. Most people who visit their ear, nose, and throat specialist complaining of a sinus headache actually learn that they are having a different type of headache.

  • A diagnosis from a professional is needed to determine which type of headache a patient is having.
  • This determination is important, because long-term treatment for a sinus headache will depend on treatment of the underlying cause.

Causes of Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are most often caused by infections or allergies. In either case, there is inflammation of the nasal passages. This inflammation results in congestion. It is the pressure buildup resulting from the congestion that causes the pain of a sinus headache. Occasionally, a sinus headache and its associated symptoms may be the result of a nasal polyp. Nasal polyps are often painless and cause no problems for those that have them. However, patients with many polyps or polyps of large size may develop sinus headaches.

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Symptoms of Sinus Headaches

The pain from a sinus headache is usually localized to the region behind the cheekbones, nose, and forehead. Patients often find that the pain is worsened by movement of the head—especially when movement is sudden and quick. Sinus headache pain may also be intensified by movements that cause strain in the face, such as bending down.

Because sinus headaches are a symptom of an underlying problem, they are normally accompanied by other symptoms related to the cause. Some of the possible symptoms are similar for both allergies and infections, such as a stuffy or runny nose, a cough, or swelling in the face. Other symptoms more specific to a sinus infection may include flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, fatigue, and congestion that may be present in one or both ears. In cases where a sinus headache is being caused by a nasal polyp, accompanying symptoms may include a decreased sense of smell and/or taste as well as frequent snoring and postnasal drip.

Treatment of Sinus Headaches

In order to treat a sinus headache for good, the cause must first be determined. Generally, a non-invasive physical exam is sufficient to determine the cause. If an infection is discovered, antibiotics are the usual course of action. For an allergy, patients may be advised to take prescription or over-the-counter allergy medications. Rarely, surgery may be required if the cause of a sinus headache is determined to be a blockage of some kind.

Once the cause of a sinus headache is addressed and treated, the headache should stop. In the meantime, pain can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants. Home remedies such as the use of a saline rinse or humidifier may provide some temporary relief. Avoidance of nasal irritants such as smoke, fragrances, and other allergens is also a good idea to minimize sinus pressure and relieve sinus headache pain.