Sinus Headaches

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Sinus Headaches

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What is a sinus headache?

Sinus headaches are felt in the upper face as a dull, throbbing pain and are caused by blocked or inflamed sinuses. They are not a common type of headache - some people may assume they have a sinus headache, when in fact they have a migraine.

What does a sinus headache feel like?

Sinus headaches feel like a constant dull, throbbing pain in the front of your head, face, cheekbones and bridge of your nose. You may feel pressure or fullness around your eyes, cheeks and forehead. Often the pain gets worse if you move your head suddenly or bend forward.

Sinus headaches often feel more painful in the morning because fluids have been collecting all night long, so symptoms can improve by the afternoon. Sudden extreme changes in temperature or the environment can also feel like they worsen sinus headache pain.

What causes sinus headaches?

Your sinuses are small air-filled cavities in your skull and can be found behind the bridge of your nose, your eyes and cheeks. They lead out into the nose allowing mucus to drain and air to circulate normally. When the sinuses become inflamed, it can result in a sinus headache.

Sinus headaches are generally caused by congestion or inflammation in your sinuses. Often this inflammation is caused by an infection or by allergies. For example if the lining of the nose and airways becomes infected with a cold, the infection could spread up to the sinuses causing them to become swollen and painful.

Sinusitis infection

The mucus produced by your sinuses usually drains into your nose through small channels. However when the lining of your sinuses is inflamed, usually after an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold, it’s not unusual for the opening between the sinuses and the nose to become blocked. This is called sinusitis. Pressure can build up in your sinuses when they are swollen or congested, which can cause a pain that feels like a headache.

Symptoms of sinus headaches

As well as a deep throbbing headache, you may experience other symptoms alongside a sinus headache. These could include:

  • A runny or blocked nose
  • Feeling of fullness or pressure in your ears
  • Pain in your face that is tender to touch
  • Fever
  • Your headache may feel worse when you move your head
  • A pain that spreads to other parts of your head such as your jaw or your teeth when you eat

How common are sinus headaches?

Sinus headaches are one of the less common types of headaches. As the symptoms of sinus headaches are very similar to other recurring headaches such as migraines or tension headaches, it’s easy to confuse what type of headache you are experiencing. 

Diagnosing a sinus headache

Generally, if you have facial pain or a headache, but no other symptoms of sinusitis (such as a runny nose or fever) it’s likely that you actually have a migraine or tension headache.

As always if you’re unsure it’s best to seek medical advice for a proper diagnosis and advice on the best course of treatment.

Sinus headache relief

If you do have a sinus headache, there are a few things you can do to help treat it yourself. Here are a few tips that can help to relieve mild symptoms of a sinus headache:

  • Make sure you get enough rest and stay comfortably warm
  • Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids
  • Avoid bright environments
  • Hold a warm flannel over your sinuses for a couple of minutes to soothe pain and encourage mucus to drain from your sinuses
  • Use an over the counter saline or decongestant spray to help flush out the inside of your nose
  • If you suspect your sinus headache is the result of an allergy you should seek medical advice on how to manage your allergies
  • Avoid bending down or making sudden movements because this can increase the pain of a sinus headache
  • You can also consider taking Nurofen Sinus & Pain Film-coated Tablets*, they contain ibuprofen (an analgesic with anti-inflammatory properties) to help reduce the pain and Pseudoephedrine (a decongestant) to help relieve the pressure on your sinuses by unblocking your nasal and sinus passages so you can breathe easier.

When to see a doctor

If you regularly suffer from sinus headaches, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your GP who may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT specialist). Equally if you have had a sinus headache for over a week and your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse you should see your doctor so you can get proper diagnosis and treatment. If your sinus headache is being caused by a bacterial infection, you may need to be prescribed a course of antibiotics.

Other types of headache

 Sinus headaches are also known as ‘secondary headaches’, headaches that are attributed to another condition, in this case sinusitis. Other secondary headaches include:

  • Hormone headaches (also known as “menstrual migraines”) are caused by fluctuations in hormone levels, more specifically the hormone oestrogen. Many women notice a link with their periods.

Some headaches are considered ‘primary headaches’, meaning a headache that is due to the headache condition itself and not due to another cause. These include:

  • Tension headaches which are the most common type of headache. Symptoms are most commonly described as a “tightness” that can be felt around the front, top and sides of the head.  
  • Migraines which are less common than tension headaches, however the pain can be much more severe with symptoms including an increased sensitivity to light or sound, as well as nausea and vomiting. Read more on migraines here.  
  • Cluster headaches which are considered the most severe type of headache with symptoms including agonising (piercing-like) pain around one eye.

All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health matters please contact your doctor or pharmacist.

* Nurofen Sinus and Pain Film-coated tablets, contain Ibuprofen 200mg, Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride 30mg for relief of cold & flu and congestion. Always read the label.