When you have a headache, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. So many people with sinus headaches think they have migraines. So many people with migraines think that they have sinus headaches.
If you do have sinus headaches, instead of a different type of headache, you have options for treating them. Learn more about the causes of the headaches, common symptoms, and what you can do about them.
Causes of Sinus Headaches
When you suffer from sinusitis, the sinus cavities – those empty spaces under your eyes, by your nose and beneath your forehead – become inflamed. The inflammation, whether it’s caused by bacteria, an allergen, a virus or fungus, makes it difficult for the sinuses to drain. Mucus builds up in them and puts pressures on your sinuses. The result is often described as a throbbing, dull pain in the cheeks, forehead or nose.
Signs of a Sinus Headache
Usually, the pain associated with a sinus headache occurs in a very specific area of the face, often by the eyes, forehead and cheeks. Along with feeling pain similar to a standard headache, people suffering from sinus headaches often also feel pain when they touch their faces.
The symptoms of a sinus headache can be more severe or worse under certain conditions. For example, some people notice that their symptoms are most noticeable when the weather is humid or cold. Changes in pressure, which affect the pressure in the sinus cavities, can also make the pain of the headaches worse. Some people feel more pain if they put their head down, turn to the left or right quickly, or if they fly while suffering from a sinus headache.
In some instances, a person may experience cold symptoms along with a sinus headache. It’s not uncommon for a person to have a runny nose or congestion at the same time as the headache, for instance.
Tension Headache vs. Migraine vs. Sinus Headache
People who self-diagnose their sinus headache often misdiagnose them. It’s very common for a migraine sufferer to diagnose him or herself as having sinus headaches. Sometimes, people who suffer from tension headaches misdiagnose them as sinus headaches. Since there are some similarities between each type of headache, getting an official diagnosis from a doctor is an essential step before beginning a treatment program.
If you are unsure whether you’re suffering from migraines, tension headaches or sinus headaches, there are some key differences between each. For example, although people who suffer from migraines often experience an increase in discomfort and pain due to pressure shifts and movement, they also tend to have feelings of nausea and sensitivity to sound and light. Sinus headache sufferers don’t often feel nauseated and aren’t sensitive to light or sound. Additionally, migraine sufferers don’t often have the cold-like symptoms accompanying their headaches.
The pain associated with tension headaches usually starts at the back of the head. It moves up over the head, until it feels as though a person has a tight band around their skull that’s putting a lot of pressure on their head. Along with head pain, people suffering from tension headaches also often have pain in their shoulders, back and neck.
Diagnosing Sinus Headaches
One of the best ways to be sure that your sinus headaches are actually sinus headaches is to see a doctor for a diagnosis. During your appointment, a surgeon will ask you to describe your symptoms while examining your face. Tests to see if your sinuses are inflamed include shining a light on them, putting gentle pressure on them, and checking the nasal passages for congestion or mucus.
If it’s possible that inflamed sinuses are causing your headaches, your surgeon will likely perform a few more tests to determine the cause of your sinus problems. If allergies are thought to be to blame, he might order an allergy test to figure out what you are allergic to. If another form of chronic sinusitis is suspected, your surgeon might order an MRI or CT scan to get a good look at what is going on in your sinus cavities.
Treating Sinus Headaches
Treatment options for a sinus headache range from non-invasive, at-home remedies to surgery. If your sinus problems are related to allergies, avoiding your allergens, taking allergy medication or getting allergy shots to reduce your sensitivity to certain allergens are all possible options.
In some cases, you can reduce the inflammation in your sinuses at home by flushing out the sinus cavities with salt water, by using a humidifier to reduce dryness in the air, and by inhaling steam. If your doctor suspects that bacteria is behind your sinus problems, he might prescribe a course of antibiotics.
Persistent headaches and chronic sinus infections might be best treated with surgery. Balloon sinuplasty helps to open the sinus cavities, reducing the pressure that is often responsible for the pain of the headaches. If you have nasal polyps that are blocking your sinuses, your surgeon might perform surgery to remove them and to help your sinuses drain more fully.
About Dr. Rubinstein
Dr. Rubinstein has nearly sixteen years of experience helping patients with sinus headaches and other sinus problems in the Hudson Valley. A board certified facial plastic surgeon and board certified otolaryngologist, he has extensive knowledge of laser procedures, facial plastic surgery, and nasal and sinus treatments, which allow him to improve aesthetics as well as functionality of the nose and facial features. Dr. Rubinstein received his board certifications through the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. To learn more about combining sinus surgery, septoplasty and rhinoplasty, schedule an appointment with Dr. Rubinstein at the Hudson Valley Sinus Center by calling 845-562-6673.