Sinus Headaches


Pressure affecting sinuses in the cheeks, around the nose, in the front of the forehead, or between the eyes sometimes contributes to headaches.

Oftentimes, people assume they have a sinus headache when it’s actually a tension or migraine headache. However, there are signs and symptoms commonly associated with sinus headaches that can help you get a better idea of what type of headaches you may be experiencing. An ear, nose, and throat doctor can provide further assistance with diagnosis and treatment.


What Causes Sinus Headaches?

True sinus headaches are associated with pain and pressure in the face as well as typical headache symptoms. Oftentimes, headaches of this nature are related to other types of headaches. Facial pain that includes a headache may also be triggered when contact is made between a piece of cartilage or bone in the area that divides the nose (nasal septum) and nearby nasal tissues.

Some sinus headaches may be linked to sphenopalatine neuralgia, a type of facial pain syndrome that can cause sharp or stinging discomfort in the cheeks. Risk factors associated with sinus-related headaches include having a history of migraines or a family history of headaches, in general. Estrogen medication has also been associated with headaches.

What Are Common Signs/Symptoms?

Sinus headaches are different from other headaches in that symptoms aren’t limited to pressure or throbbing sensations in the head. Pain is sometimes worse when bending forward or lying down. In addition to pain or pressure in the forehead or brow, you may experience:

  • Facial pain, pressure, or fullness
  • General fatigue
  • Stuffy nose
  • Upper teeth pain or discomfort

How Are Sinus Headaches Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing sinus headaches is to determine if they are actually sinus headaches or migraines or tension or clutter headaches. Migraines, in particular, can also cause nasal and facial symptoms and nasal drainage. Sinus headaches, on the other hand, usually aren’t affected by light or noise, which is a characteristic of migraine headaches. Pinpointing the source of any type of headaches can be difficult. An ENT doctor may achieve a more accurate diagnosis by discussing symptoms, considering any existing sinus conditions, and reviewing results from a CT scan or MRI.

How Might They Be Treated?

Both migraines and sinus headaches may be treated with various medications. Some patients respond well to over-the-counter headache remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Triptans like sumatriptan (Imitrex) and frovatriptan (Frova) may provide relief by blocking by blocking pain pathways in the brain. Anti-nausea medications may also be helpful. Caffeine combination drugs and glucocorticoids are sometimes prescribed, although these medications have certain side effects associated with them that usually limits use.

In some instances, sinus inflammation may make symptoms associated with other types of headaches worse. If this is the case, treatment usually involves addressing the sinus-related symptoms and the additional symptoms related to the headaches. For example, if a patient has migraine symptoms aggravated by sinus congestion, treatment would involve standard migraine remedies plus efforts to clear the sinuses.

Lifestyle changes such as minimizing exposure to certain odors, reducing alcohol consumption, getting more exercise, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and enjoying a healthier diet may ease headache frequency. Also, don’t assume that just because you have an existing sinus condition or issues with seasonal allergies that every headache you experience will be a sinus headache. If your sinus and allergy symptoms are under control and you are still having headaches, for instance, you may want to talk to your doctor to rule out or confirm sinus-related factors.