What Causes It?
Sinus headache is most commonly caused by a buildup of mucus in the sinuses leading to infection there. A common cold or seasonal allergies are frequently to blame. Another cause could be nasal polyps — abnormal growths within the nasal cavities that prevent mucus from draining, causing mucus to build and resulting pressure to increase.
A sinus headache not found to be caused by sinus infection may be caused by a headache disorder such as migraine. The two are often interrelated — people with seasonal allergies are 10 times more likely to suffer from migraines as well.
What Are the Symptoms?
Indicators of a sinus headache are facial pain or pressure in the cheeks, eyebrows, and forehead, often described as a constant, dull ache. People with sinus headache often report that the pain gets worse when they bend forward or lie down.
Other symptoms of sinus headaches include nasal congestion, yellow or green nasal discharge, a weakened sense of smell, fatigue, fever, facial swelling, and watery or red eyes.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Up to 90 percent of people who go to the doctor for sinus headaches are diagnosed with migraine instead. Migraine headaches cannot be treated with antibiotics; however, sinusitis due to bacterial infection can be.
To make an accurate distinction, the healthcare professional will inquire about specific symptoms: A migraine will often also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, a visual aura, and sensitivity to bright lights, while a headache caused by sinusitis is more likely to have symptoms that resemble a cold. To rule out migraine, the doctor will also ask about any family history of migraines, or if there have been any common migraine triggers such as lack of sleep or a move to a higher altitude.
How Is It Treated?
If symptoms are the result of sinus infection, the healthcare professional may recommend trying to “ride it out,” to prevent antibiotic resistance or medication overuse headache. Infections that last longer than 7 days or that are accompanied by fever can be treated with prescribed antibiotics.
Over-the-counter painkillers and nasal decongestants can help reduce sinus pressure and inflammation, regardless of cause. Home remedies — drinking more fluids, using a humidifier, or using a saline nasal spray — may also help relieve symptoms.
Is It Preventable?
When head pain is caused by chronic sinusitis or frequent allergy attacks, a healthcare professional can prescribe a regular daily antibiotic to prevent symptoms from becoming critically painful.
People who get chronic sinusitis are advised to take steps to avoid cigarette smoke and other air pollutants, keep allergy symptoms under control, and work to prevent upper respiratory infections by rigorous handwashing and avoiding contact with people who have colds or sinus issues. Drinking more fluids, using a saline nasal spray, or using a humidifier to add moisture to the air can also help prevent sinusitis.