A headache can be frustrating, tiring, and painful. To effectively treat a headache, you first need to figure out what type of headache you have. A few common examples include tension headaches, migraine headaches, and sinus headaches. Sinus headache, however, is often misdiagnosed by the general population. In fact, 90% of self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually migraines1.
In this article, we will go into detail about what to expect from a “true” sinus headache, where it comes from, and how to tell the difference between sinus headaches and migraines.
Sinus Headache Symptoms
Sinus headache is often a symptom of sinus infections or seasonal allergies. It can cause pain and pressure in your face, and it might cause you to feel tired and run down, particularly if you have a difficult time sleeping at night. If you press on your cheeks, brow, or forehead, you may notice that the pain gets worse.2 That is because you are increasing the pressure present behind your sinuses, aggravating the headache. This is where you may feel the majority of your sinus headache symptoms.
Some of the most common symptoms you might notice include: 2
- A stuffy nose
- Thick, coloured mucus discharge from the nose
- A feeling of pain or pressure behind your eyes and in your cheeks, forehead, and bridge of the nose.
- Feeling of fullness in the ears.
- Swollen or puffy face
Sinus Headache vs Migraine - How to Tell the Difference
A “true” sinus headache is not very common. What most people call a sinus headache is actually a migraine headache with nasal symptoms3. There are several similarities between migraine headaches and sinus headaches that could cause confusion. For example, both headaches may be accompanied by facial pressure and congestion.4 Based on these few symptoms alone, it might be difficult to tell which type of headache you are suffering from.
So, how do you know whether your headache is a sinus headache or a migraine?
A sinus headache is frequently accompanied by nasal discharge and a fever. A sinus headache can also lead to foul-smelling breath.1 These symptoms are typically not seen with a migraine headache.
A migraine has a slightly different constellation of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of a migraine include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity (photophobia), and sound sensitivity (phonophobia).5 These symptoms are typically not seen with a sinus headache.
Why do Sinus Headaches Happen
Sinus infections cause sinus headaches. Anything that makes mucus buildup in the sinuses can lead to a sinus infection2.
Some of the most common causes of a sinus headache include:
- The Common Cold: If you have congestion building up in your sinuses due to the common cold, you could potentially develop a sinus headache.6
- Seasonal Allergies: If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may develop congestion in your sinuses, causing a sinus headache. Because seasonal allergies are not necessarily an infection, you may not have a fever; however, you may still develop a headache.7
- Nasal Polyps: Nasal polyps arise when the tissue lining in the nose becomes swollen due to inflammation or allergy. Polyps could take up space in your sinuses, increasing pressure. This could ultimately lead to a sinus headache.8
- A Deviated Septum: The nasal septum is the cartilage and bone in your nose. You may have a deviated septum when the septum is off-center. If you have a deviated septum, pressure could increase in one portion of your sinuses because one side of your sinuses may not have as much space. The increased sinus pressure could cause a sinus headache.9
These are a few of the most common reasons why people develop a sinus headache. If you want to learn more about the causes and prevention of sinus headaches, take a closer look here.
How to Relieve Sinus Headaches
There are several options available for relieving sinus headaches while you recover. Below are some treatment options that may help you feel more at ease:
- Warm Compress: You might want to start by applying a warm compress to painful areas of the face. The goal of a warm compress is to encourage the cells and tissues to relax. Then, as your sinuses open up, the pressure should drop, alleviating your symptoms.10
- Steam Vaporizer: You may also want to try inhaling steam or vaporized water. As you inhale water vapor, you can alleviate sinus congestion, decreasing the pressure in your sinuses. Then, your headache may start to go away.10
- Nasal Decongestant: You might also want to try a nasal decongestant, such as a nasal spray. This could provide you with temporary relief, but you need to avoid the chronic use of nasal sprays, as it may ultimately make the symptoms worse.11
- Tylenol®: You may also want to give Tylenol® a try. TYLENOL® Sinus Pain and Pressure Products can help alleviate congestion and other sinus symptoms to relieve your sinus headache.
These are just a few of the many treatment options available for sinus headaches. If you are still unsure of how to relieve your sinus headache, consult your doctor for treatments and medications.