What to Know About Your Sinus Headache

Everyone experiences headache symptoms at some point, whether they’re mild or debilitating. There are many types of headaches, but one of the most common is a sinus headache usually accompanied by sinus symptoms.

So what are sinus headaches and what are the best ways to get rid of them? Sinus headaches may occur when there’s a sinus infection. When sinus inflammation happens because of an allergic reaction, infection, or nasal congestion, patients may feel facial pain behind the eyes, as well as near the cheekbones, forehead, and nose. Sinus headache pain can be treated with pain medications, IV infections, and home remedies.

What’s a Sinus Headache?

Sinus headaches are a symptom of a sinus problem, which causes pain and pressure on the face. But because it shares similarities with migraine headaches, many people tend to self-diagnose their symptoms as sinus headaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 90% of people who consult a doctor for sinus headaches actually have migraine with nasal symptoms instead.

Sinus Headache

While it might not matter to some people which kind of headache they have, it’s still important to understand the difference because it allows them to manage their symptoms and find the best treatment options.

1) How It Feels

A sinus headache usually causes facial pain that worsens when the patient suddenly moves their head. They may also feel deep and constant pain in the forehead, cheekbones, or along the bridge of their nose. The pain is usually accompanied by common sinus symptoms like fever, facial swelling, sore throat, sinus pressure, runny nose, sinus congestion, a feeling of fullness in the ears, and nasal discharge.

Sinus pain may also happen on one or both sides of the face. It can either last for a long or short time, so doctors usually categorize them as symptoms of acute sinusitis or chronic sinusitis.

2) Why It Happens

Sinus infections are the main cause of sinus headaches.
Anything that causes mucus buildup in  the sinus cavity may lead to sinus infections and frequent sinus headaches, such as:

  • Common cold caused by a viral infection
  • Seasonal allergy, rhinosinusitis, and allergic rhinitis that trigger mucus production
  • Nasal polyps or abnormal growths in the nasal passage that results in a clogged sinus
  • Deviated septum or when the line of bone and cartilage along the nose isn’t straight, preventing mucus from properly draining

Mucus buildup encourages the growth of germs in the nose, which irritates the sinuses. This causes the tissues to swell and block the passage of mucus. When the sinuses are filled with mucus and liquid, it makes the face feel achy and tender.

3) How It’s Diagnosed

Many people diagnose sinus headaches by themselves when they have symptoms of sinusitis, but most of the time, they actually have migraine flare ups. It’s crucial to consult with a medical professional immediately to find out the true cause of the headache and get the right sinus headache treatment.

To diagnose a sinus headache, the healthcare provider asks about the patient’s symptoms and performs a physical examination. If the symptoms are ongoing or severe, the patient might need imaging tests like MRI to rule out severe brain conditions and other similar health concerns. Other imaging tests may also reveal sinus congestion like X-rays, CT scan, and nasal endoscopy.

Sinus Headaches and Migraines: What’s the Difference?

A migraine headache is more common than a sinus headache since it affects about 10% of people worldwide. It’s often mistaken for sinus headaches because they share the same symptoms – facial pain and runny nose. However, the main difference between these headache disorders is the appearance and consistency of the nasal discharge: migraines produce thin and clear nasal discharge while a sinus headache produces thick and discolored nasal discharge.

Additionally, migraines may also occur in other areas. Sinus headache pain is usually felt in the face while migraines may also occur around the temples, at the back of the head, or high in the forehead. Migraines are also felt on one side of the head while sinus headaches can be felt on one or both sides of the face.

Migraines may also feel like a pulsing and throbbing pain instead of a pressure around the nose caused by a sinus headache. Knowing these important differences can help patients find the most effective treatment option for them.

Are Sinus Headaches Preventable?

Yes, it’s possible to prevent the occurrence and severity of sinus headaches by treating the root cause – whether it’s because of chronic sinusitis, deviated septum, or allergic rhinitis. Most patients take preventive medications to reduce their symptoms, but some lifestyle changes can also help prevent severe sinus headaches.

  • Exercising regularly: Regular aerobic exercises help prevent headaches by reducing tension in their bodies. If the doctor recommends it, try any aerobic exercise you find enjoyable like cycling, swimming, and walking. Just make sure to warm up properly because sudden and intense exercises may trigger headaches.
  • Avoiding triggers: Some odors and foods may trigger headaches, so make sure to avoid something if it has already caused headache symptoms for you before. Doctors may also recommend reducing your tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine intake.
  • Reducing estrogen intake: Medications that contain estrogen may trigger or make headaches worse, so it’s best to avoid them if they affect your symptoms. Always remember only to take the right dosage for you as directed by a healthcare provider to avoid estrogen-induced headaches.

Treating Sinus Headaches With Different Approaches

Doctors may recommend different sinus headache treatments, but they usually depend on the cause and severity of the sinus headache.
At Advanced Headache Center, we may recommend one or more of the following treatments for sinus headaches:

1) Multimodal Approach

Our multimodal approach for sinus headaches involves using one or more treatment options to solve the problem at its root. This means we may recommend both pharmacological or non-pharmacological methods to provide you with the best sinus headache relief.

In the pharmacological approach, we prescribe a pain medication that stops or prevents sinus headache symptoms. However, we ask our patients to pay careful attention to their symptoms to avoid developing unwanted side effects. Our multimodal approach may also include treatments like blocks and injections for long-lasting pain relief.

2) Rational Polypharmacy

Rational polypharmacy is the use of multiple medications to treat headache pain. This method is especially effective for sinus headaches caused by chronic sinusitis. Our headache specialist works with each patient to determine the exact cause of their sinus headache and create a treatment plan that works for them without leading to negative side effects or resulting in drug dependency.

For Preventing Headaches

  • NSAIDs can relieve facial pain when taken during the early stages of sinus headache
  • CGRP medications block the CGRP pathway to prevent a migraine attack
  • SNRIs are antidepressants recommended for patients who experience recurring migraine attacks but have comorbid depression
  • Calcium channel blockers keep the calcium away from the heart cells to lower blood pressure and reduce the chances of migraines

For Stopping Headaches

  • OTC drugs are common painkillers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen that deal with sinus headaches
  • Triptans and NSAIDs together block headache pain by soothing the patient’s nerves and blood vessels involved in sinus headaches
  • CGRP antagonists prevent episodic and chronic headaches by preventing the dilation of blood vessels in the brain

3) Intravenous Infusions

This type of treatment involves delivering a mixture of medications directly into your bloodstream using a needle or tube. Since a lot of patients don’t want to rely on narcotic medications and painkillers to alleviate their headaches, IV infusions for headaches became a popular treatment option.

At Advanced Headache Center, our intravenous infusions for headaches contain magnesium for safe and effective pain relief. It also includes a blend of medications meant to treat pain, inflammation, and nausea.

4) Home Remedies

Home remedies are most effective for patients who are still in the early stages of sinus headaches. Most patients use nasal irrigation or nasal spray to unclog their noses and experience pain relief.
Here are other home remedies for sinus headaches that are worth a try:

  • Drink more water
  • Be more active in exercising
  • Reduce caffeine consumption
  • Use hot or cold compresses
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfasts
  • Develop regular sleeping patterns
  • Restrict your intake of OTC painkillers

Accurate Diagnosis and Effective Treatments by Advanced Headache Center

Dealing with nasal congestion is already a pain, but having a sinus headache with it puts you through another level of discomfort. To get rid of your pain for good, it’s better to consult with a doctor or headache expert instead of reaching for any medication immediately.

Advanced Headache Center is the center for integrative headache treatments in NJ and NYC. We’re here to provide you with comprehensive diagnoses and well-designed headache treatments for long-lasting pain relief. Aside from sinus headaches, we also offer treatments for other types of headaches like tension headaches, cluster headaches, and more.

Call us today to book your first appointment with us. We have a convenient location in Greenwich Village and nearby areas such as New City, Paramus, Riverdale, Englewood Cliffs, and East Brunswick

Updated on Feb 2, 2024 by Dr. Amr Hosny (Headache Specialist) of Advanced Headache Center

Amr Hosny, MD, MBA, AQH

Dr. Hosny is an Ivy League Trained, UCNS-accredited, board-certified headache specialist who offers the latest preventive and abortive treatments to provide safe and effective head pain relief. As an active member of prominent organizations and professional societies that advance headache science, education, and management, such as the National Headache Foundation, Dr. Hosney specializes in diagnosing and treating a wide range of head pain disorders, including tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches, to name a few.

Dr. Hosny's reputation for enhancing headache care quality through the use of the most effective and technologically advanced treatment options for persistent primary and secondary chronic headaches has been acknowledged by Castle Connolly and Healthgrades, where he has received over 200 positive reviews. Dr. Hosny is also recognized as a distinguished New York City physician and headache specialist by New York Magazine.

More about Dr. Hosny
Advanced Headache Center 41 5th Avenue,
New York, NY 10003
(646) 763-2222