Sinus Headache

What is a Sinus Headache?

The sinuses are located behind the cheekbones, nose and forehead. These open spaces are filled with air, and when pressure increases painful sinus headaches can occur. These headaches may be also be caused by allergies and infection, and they can be mistaken for tension and migraine headaches since they affect nearby locations.

What are the Symptoms of Sinus Headaches?

When trying to differentiate between sinus, tension and migraine headaches, keep in mind that sinus headaches include nasal symptoms and may be caused by an allergic reaction or sinusitis (sinus infection). The signs and symptoms of a sinus headache depend on the cause and may include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Pain that increases when bending forward or lying down
  • Lethargy
  • Pressure, pain and/or swelling in the cheeks, eye area and/or forehead
  • Aching in upper jaw/teeth

Symptoms of a sinus headache caused by sinusitis may also include:

  • High temperature
  • Chills
  • Nasal discharge (may be green or yellow)
  • Stuffy ears

Signs of a sinus headache caused by an allergy may include:

  • Localized facial pain (cheeks, eye area and/or forehead)
  • Pain may be throbbing, limited to one side and may worsen in sunlight
  • Queasiness

Sinus Headache Causes

Sinus headaches can occur for a number of reasons, the most obvious being an actual infection of the sinuses. This can cause the sinuses to become blocked with mucus which creates pressure on the surrounding tissues, leading to pain. Sinusitis often develops from a common cold.

In other instances, sinus headaches are caused by allergies, also known as rhinitis. In these cases, the lining of the sinuses becomes irritated, inflamed and sometimes congested which, as with infections, can be very painful. Sometimes rhinitis can lead to an infection, which could make headaches occur more often or for much longer.

In other cases, normal headaches or migraines can be confused for sinus headaches.

How are Sinus Headaches Treated?

The treatment for a sinus headache may require the treatment of sinusitis or an allergy. Sinus pressure caused by an allergic reaction may be treated with antihistamines, preventative medication and avoidance of the allergen(s). Treatment for a sinus headache may include:

  • Nasal decongestant
  • Non-prescription pain reliever
  • Corticosteroids to relieve inflammation and pain
  • Increased fluid intake to thin mucous secretions
  • Cool mist humidifier or vaporizer use
  • Nasal irrigation to reduce inflammation
  • Cold compresses (30 sec) and hot compresses (3 min) 3 x each up to 6 x a day
  • Endoscopic surgery as a curative treatment for acute sinusitis

If sinusitis is found to be the cause of the pain, antibiotic medication may be prescribed.

Sinus Headache Prevention

To prevent sinus headaches, it’s very important to deal with possible instances of sinus infections as soon as possible. Sinusitis can cause a fever, yellow-green mucous from the nose or draining down the back of the throat and severe pressure behind the eyes and cheeks. Rapid treatment with antibiotics or a neti pot, which helps to flush infected blockages from the sinuses, may help to prevent a sinus headache.

To reduce the risk of developing sinusitis or other congestion in the sinuses which could cause a headache, drink plenty of water to help thin out mucus in the sinuses and prevent blockages. You should also try to avoid contracting a cold or infection by washing hands regularly, particularly when around people who have a cold or other infection themselves.

People with allergies who are prone to sinus headaches may be able to reduce the frequency of headaches by getting their allergies under control. Medication such as antihistamines or allergy shots might help to reduce the severity of allergies and therefore the level of irritation and discomfort in the sinuses. Be wary of decongestant sprays, however, since these can, with long term use, dry out the mucous membranes in the nasal and sinus cavities and increase the risk of irritation and infection.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 08, 2017