Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are some of the most disabling that you can experience. In fact, this inflammation of the paranasal sinuses can become chronic at times, affecting your quality of life.
Sinus Headaches
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 14 March, 2023

Runny nose, dizziness, impaired smell, tiredness, inability to concentrate or work. These are the symptoms of sinus headaches. In fact, sufferers often confuse them with migraines. This might mean they spend a long time without receiving the most appropriate treatment for their problem. Moreover, it greatly affects their quality of life.

The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that headaches are one of the most common nervous system disorders. That said, only a minority of people who suffer from this problem receive a proper diagnosis from a specialized professional. As a rule, we tend to resort to self-medication, rest, and warm cloths on our foreheads.

However, in all cases, it’s important to have an adequate clinical examination that allows a correct explanation of the origin of the headache. The most appropriate diagnostic techniques are X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

Let’s find out more about sinus headaches.

A sinus headache isn’t only painful, it’s also disabling for the sufferer. It’s important to know that excessive consumption of painkillers can intensify the problem.

girl suffering from sinus headache
According to experts, about 80 percent of the time, what we think of as sinus headaches are migraines with nasal symptoms.

Sinus headaches

Sinus headaches are caused by inflammation of the paranasal sinuses. These are air-filled spaces located between the bones of the head. Their function is to produce mucus and a humid environment to keep the nose free of dust and microbes.

Factors such as a cold, asthma, or suffering from some type of allergy can cause the sinuses to become inflamed. That’s when sinus headaches occur, among other symptoms. As we mentioned earlier, one of the biggest problems with these headaches is that sufferers often confuse them with migraines with nasal symptoms.

In fact, it’s estimated that about 80 percent of the time, what we think is an inflamed paranasal sinus is actually a migraine. An investigation conducted by the Neurological Institute of Arizona (USA) and research conducted at Al-Minia University (Egypt) reached the same conclusions. Clearly, it’s essential to differentiate one condition from the other.

Sinus headache symptoms

Sinus headaches exhibit a whole range of symptoms. Furthermore, each sufferer might show certain characteristics based on the incidence of the paranasal inflammation itself.

  • The headache is quite severe and persistent. It’s intensified by touching the affected sinuses.
  • Pain in the cheekbones, forehead, and eyebrows.
  • Nasal congestion. Thick mucus may appear.
  • Exhaustion
  • Smell disturbance.
  • Intensification of pain when bending over or getting up.
  • Sensitivity to light may, though not always, appear.
  • Dizziness.
  • Possible signs of fever.
  • Possible swelling of the face.
  • Blocked ears.

How to differentiate sinus headaches from migraines

The problem in differentiating sinus headaches from migraines is that the latter sometimes appears with nasal symptoms. However, if there’s no congestion, it’s a migraine.

  • Headaches due to sinusitis often last for days, weeks, or months. On the other hand, migraines are usually present for a few hours or a maximum of two or three days.
  • As a rule, unlike migraines, in sinusitis, there’s no nausea or vomiting.
  • Sinus headaches aren’t affected as much by sounds, smells, or bright light. However, these symptoms always appear in migraines.

The origin of sinusitis

The origin of sinus headaches lies in the inflammation of the paranasal sinuses. Excess mucus accumulates and, consequently, germs gather and end up irritating the cavities of the frontal bones.

Gradually, the sinus tissue swells, blocking the passage of mucus. Eventually, all the symptoms described above develop, with headache being the most disabling characteristic. The following processes can trigger this inflammation.

  • Colds.
  • Allergies.
  • Deviated nasal septum.
  • Nasal polyps.
girl suffering from sinus headache
Specific diagnostic tests are needed to diagnose sinus headaches, such as X-rays or nasal endoscopies.

Treatment for sinus headaches

Although the headache is the most disabling symptom, it’s important to know that painkillers don’t work in the case of sinus headaches. That’s because they don’t tackle the original problem, which is the infectious process of the paranasal sinuses. Therefore, we emphasize again the importance of receiving an accurate diagnosis.

Depending on the disease that’s causing the infection, the following therapeutic strategies can be used:

  • Antibiotics
  • Decongestants.
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation.
  • Humidifiers.
  • Saline nasal sprays

Furthermore, it should be noted that, in situations of chronic sinusitis, sufferers can opt for surgical interventions. In fact, in these cases, endoscopic sinus surgery is usually used. This technique is both safe and effective.

Finally, we must emphasize that you should always consult a good specialist if you want to be assured of receiving the best treatment.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.