Sinus pain is a common complaint among headache sufferers. In fact, it is so common that there are numerous over-the-counter medications available to treat sinus pain. Walkthrough the sinus and allergy section of any pharmacy, and you’ll see how commonplace sinus pain really is. But what exactly are sinus headaches and what is the best way to treat them?
What is a Sinus Headache?
The sinuses are cavities within the skull that add humidity to the air you breathe and strengthen the skull, making it more resistant to trauma. The sinuses also secrete mucus which as you breathe in, filters the air and removes any particles that may be irritants such as pollen or dust.
This filter is part of the immune system and not only traps pollen, dust, and other allergens, but viruses and bacteria as well, and these can cause infection in the sinuses known as sinusitis. This can trigger swelling and the excess production of mucus. As the sinuses become more inflamed, drainage of the mucus from the sinuses becomes difficult, leading to more pressure and pain, and a vicious cycle begins. This leads to the all too familiar pressure sensation and pain in the sinuses characteristic of a sinus headache.
However, a large study of 3,000 headache sufferers found that migraine headaches can cause the same symptoms as sinus headaches. The study participants had symptoms of sinus pressure and pain, along with runny noses and tearing of the eyes that were caused by a migraine.
When the participants tried standard sinus medications to alleviate their symptoms, their results were less than stellar. The participants also had symptoms of migraines including:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Phonophobia (sensitivity to sound)
- A headache that was made worse by movement or activity
- Pain that was described as throbbing or pulsating
Headaches caused by sinus pain are often mistaken for tension headaches and migraines because their symptoms can feel similar. This type of headache has two main symptoms: pain and pressure in the sinuses. You might also have a headache in the forehead, around the eyes, and in the cheeks.
The pressure and pain can increase when the head changes positions because the excess fluid in the sinuses can move. Many people who have frequent sinus problems find that their sinus pain and pressure is much worse upon waking in the morning because the fluid has been stagnant throughout the night and unable to drain.
A sinus headache can be on one side of the head like a migraine if only the sinuses on one side of the head are affected. This typically occurs in the morning upon waking, especially if you sleep on one side most of the night. Sinus headaches can also mimic tension headaches, especially when the sinuses in the forehead are affected and cause pain.
Other symptoms of a sinus headache can be similar to the flu and include:
- Tearing in the eyes
- A runny nose
- A full sensation in the ears
- Fever, chills
- Popping ears
- Swelling of the face, especially around the eyes
- Muscle aches and pain
Determining if you are suffering from a migraine or a sinus headache can be difficult. Keeping a headache journal or using a headache tracking app can help you and your doctor make the correct diagnosis and even find what is triggering your headaches.
Treatment for Sinus Headaches
The most common treatment for a sinus headache is a decongestant like pseudoephedrine. Many sinus medications combine decongestants and antihistamines along with NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) like ibuprofen. These medications help break up the excess mucus in the sinuses and decrease inflammation. The antihistamines can help treat allergies and prevent further swelling and excess fluid production.
But if a migraine causes your sinus problems, standard sinus medications like antihistamines and decongestants won’t do much for your pain. They may relieve the pain and pressure in the sinuses, but the headache will remain untouched. If you have tried a number of sinus headache remedies and they have not worked, it may be time to visit a migraine clinic.
Chronic headache treatment is another issue. If you are having chronic headaches caused by sinus pressure or infection, it’s time to visit a headache treatment clinic like the National Headache Institute.
Our doctors can help you determine the best course of treatment for your headaches whether they are caused by your sinuses or are as simple as a tension headache. We offer state-of-the-art technology including stem cell treatment for headaches called bio-cellular therapy and have several locations to serve you. Don’t suffer in pain, contact us today.