Treatment of Sinus Headaches

Woman Suffering from HeadacheA sinus headache is a common but frustrating addition to a sinus infection. Frequently occurring during months when sinus infections are common, sinus headaches can interfere with day-to-day activities and quality of life. Read on to learn more about the cause of sinus headaches and some of the several treatment options available.

What are Sinus Headaches?

Sinus headaches are headaches that may accompany a sinus infection also known as sinusitis. This is when the sinus membrane becomes swollen, inflamed, and painful. Often, patients report feeling pressure around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead. Additionally, some patients they experience deep throbbing pain during the headache.

Unfortunately, the term “sinus headache” is frequently misused when referring to headaches that are not actually related to sinusitis but may exhibit a sinus symptom. A proper diagnosis will ensure the right type of headache is identified so that the correct treatment may be administered.

What are Sinus Headache Triggers?

As sinus headaches are associated with sinusitis, the triggers for an inflammation of the sinuses will also act as triggers for sinus headaches. The following is a list of common triggers for sinus inflammations:

  • Respiratory triggers: Any respiratory condition which results in an inflamed sinus will trigger a sinus headache. This can be a separate infection, but it can also be a complication of a normal cold or flu. Additionally, conditions such as hay fever may also trigger sinus headaches. If a patient is more susceptible to respiratory infections and sinus conditions, he or she will be more likely to have frequent sinus headaches.
  • Physical triggers: Chronic inflammation of the sinuses may result from a medical condition such as cystic fibrosis. Additionally, a deformity of the nose, such as a deviated septum may also lead to more frequent inflammation of the sinuses.
  • Environmental triggers. While sinus headaches triggered by environmental factors are less common, it is still very possible for someone who has a dust and pollen allergy or sensitivity to cigarette and cigar smoke to develop sinus headaches. Those who experience seasonal allergies are also more likely to experience sinus headaches.

Unlike other common types of headaches, sinus headaches are not simply triggered by high amounts of stress, lack of sleep, or other common factors.

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What are the Symptoms of Sinus Headaches?

The following information can help properly identify a sinus headache:

  • Location: Generally, sinus headaches feature pain and pressure in the cheeks, head, forehead or eye area on the face. Additionally, there may also be pressure above the gums in the mouth.
  • Type: The pain associated with sinus headaches is sharp and may include pressure associated with sinus headaches, with the pain worsening with movement such as bending or laying down.
  • Severity: While sinus headaches are unpleasant, they are usually not as severe as other types of headaches, unless one of the sinuses is completely blocked in which case the pain can be excrutiating. Sinus headaches have a lack of nausea or vomiting that is commonly associated with other types of headaches. However, sinus headaches are often accompanied by a fever or cough as well as an inability to fully taste food. These additional symptoms can be debilitating for some people.
  • Duration: The duration of the sinus headache will vary depending on the degree of infection that is causing it. Generally, new infections last from days to weeks, causing sinus headaches to occur frequently within that period. Chronic infections and associated headaches can last many weeks and months.

The symptoms of a sinus headache are very similar to other types of headaches. However, what makes sinus headaches unique is the lack of nausea or vomiting. Additionally, sinus headaches are not associated with irritation by bright light or noise. If you are experiencing what you think is a sinus headache but find that pain is worse on exposure to bright lights, loud noises or movement, you may have a different type of headache instead. Consult a doctor to accurately identify the correct type of headache.

Types of Sinus Headaches

Only headaches associated with inflammation of the sinuses or sinusitis are considered sinus headaches. Headaches not associated with sinusitis are not classified as sinus headaches.

Sinus Headache Risk Factors

The same factors that increase risk for sinusitis (sinus infections) also increase risk for sinus headaches. This includes poor hygiene (not washing hands), exposure to irritants  (such a cigarette or cigar smoke) and living in a dry climate which leaves the sinus dried out and unable to fight infection.

Additionally, chronic sinusitis may develop if a patient has one or more of the following:

  • A weak immune system
  • Exposure to pollutants, airborne chemicals, or irritants
  • Asthma
  • Dust, molds, or pollen allergies
  • Conditions such as nasal growths, deviated septum, or cystic fibrosis that affect the respiratory system and sinuses

Sinus Headache Treatment Options

Before treating a sinus headache, it is important to confirm the headache is actually a sinus headache. Because of symptom overlap with several different types of common headaches it’s easy to misdiagnose the type of headache the patient is experiencing. Refer to sinus headache symptoms for more clarification on the unique symptoms of sinus headaches.

Prevention

The best way to avoid sinus headaches is to prevent any sort of infection. This is especially important during the winter months when infections are more common.
The most common ways to prevent infection include:

  • Frequent hand washing. Hot water and soap is a tried-and-true method of keeping infectious germs away. If one experiences frequent physical interaction with other people, such as shaking hands or passing pens from one person to another, special care should be taken to ensure hands are washed frequently.
  • Avoiding sinus irritants. Patients who are sensitive to any sinus irritants, such as cigarette smoke and dust in the air, experience inflamed sinuses and increased likelihood of sinus headaches upon exposure. Use an air filter or avoid public places where cigarette smoke is present in order to prevent a sinus headache.
  • Use a humidifier at home and at work. People are more prone to sinus headaches when the air is dry. Using an air humidifier will keep sinuses moist and enable them to prevent infection (and associated sinus headaches).

Immediate Treatment

If you are experiencing a sinus headache, there are several immediate remedies that can provide symptom relief from the pain and discomfort associated with the headache. Consider the following treatments:

  • Nasal sprays or nasal washes (with neti pot or squeeze bottle) – Clearing the sinuses of mucus or congestion can relieve some of the pressure associated with a sinus headache.
  • Antibiotics – If a doctor confirms the presence of a sinus infection, then he or she will usually prescribe an antibiotic. Antibiotics help the sinus to return to its normal state free from pain or discomfort.
  • Strong, fast acting headache relief medication – finally, the most effective immediately that option is to take a strong, fast action medication that can relieve the pain associated with headaches. If acetaminophen and ibuprofen are not enough to fully relieve discomfort (and they are often not), a stronger medication such as Migralex is your best solution. Migralex and similar medications alleviate sinus swelling and pressure, thus providing relief from sinus headaches.

Sinus Headache Resources