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Why Sinus Headaches Are Often Diagnosed as Migraines

Pollen in the air from a Japanese Cedar

Sinus headaches are painful condition that follows sinus infections and are classified as secondary headaches. However, many people believe that they have a sinus headache when they, in fact, actually have a migraine. These two conditions can resemble each other, which is why a proper diagnosis is needed to cure the headache.

Here is a comparison between sinus headaches and migraines and some insights into why these headaches are often misclassified.

The Rarity of True Sinus Headaches

Headache specialists consider true sinus headaches to be one of the rarest forms of headaches that people suffer from. The International Headache Society has made the following statement about sinus headaches: “Chronic sinusitis is not validated as a cause of headache and facial pain unless relapsing into an acute stage.”

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Contrary to popular belief, sinusitis does not trigger migraines because the symptoms originate from different regions and have different effects in the body. However, there is a rare type of headache that is triggered by a bacterial infection in one or more sinuses.

Commonalities Between Sinus Headaches and Migraine

Research shows that patients who appear to have symptoms of sinus headaches actually have migraines instead. Both conditions typically involved pain in the front of the head. Sinus headache sufferers feel pain across the sinuses, but most pain at the front of the head is due to migraines. Yet the similarity in location can lead to a misdiagnosis.

Unique Characteristics of the Sinus Headache

Although significant commonalities exist between these two types of headaches, sinus headaches also have distinguishing characteristics that can lead to an accurate diagnosis. People often complain of having “sinus headaches” when they experience nasal blockage and allergic inflammation. However, these symptoms may not truly be part of a sinus headache, and environmental allergies could also be to blame.

These are some of the most common symptoms of sinus headaches.

  • Pressure around the eyes
  • Pressure on the cheeks
  • Pressure along the forehead
  • Throbbing pain in the head
  • Stuffy nose
  • Discolored (yellow or green) nasal mucus
  • Overall fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Achy feelings
  • Pain in the upper teeth and cheek
  • Pain that becomes worse when you lie down or bend over

Getting the Right Diagnosis

Since it is often easy to misdiagnose oneself with a sinus headache, it’s important to seek professional medical attention to obtain the correct diagnosis. The treatment strategy for migraines and other primary headache disorders varies greatly from rhinosinusitis.

Treatment for Sinus Headaches

True sinus headaches can be treated with antibiotics, decongestants, corticosteroids, and steam. On the contrary, migraines are often treated with pain-relieving and preventative medications, as well as long-term alternative therapies like biofeedback, herbs, and acupuncture.

Over-the-counter medications like Vanquish can relieve pain caused by many different types of headaches. With an extra-strength formula of aspirin, acetaminophen, and a low dose of caffeine, headache sufferers can move past the pain and get on with their lives.

To prevent sinus headaches from forming when one feels a cold coming on, it may help to breathe in warm, moist air from a steam vaporizer or simply take hot showers to get the soothing benefits of the steam. Alternating between warm and cold compresses on the sinuses may also help to alleviate pain and pressure while ill.

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