Cold and flu season takes on a whole new meaning when you are prone to sinus headaches. This type of headache is marked by pain in the nasal area, rather than in other parts of the head. The severity of sinus headaches also tends to increase over the course of a day.
Sinus headaches differ from other headaches in many ways, so it’s important to understand the differences so you can properly treat them. If you suffer from sinus headaches, read on to learn more about their causes and triggers, as well as how you can prevent and treat them with safe and effective over-the-counter medication.
What Are Sinus Headaches?
Sinuses are spaces filled with air that are found behind the bridge of your nose, behind your forehead, and behind your cheekbones. Sinus headaches occur when pressure in your sinuses has built. This typically happens when your sinuses become inflamed due to an infection or allergic reaction. Swelling results in more mucus flow; however, this mucus flow becomes blocked and causes excess pressure.
Sinus infections that lead to headaches are typically classified as secondary headaches because their cause is due to another underlying medical condition. They can originate from bacteria, a virus, or a fungus, they can be acute or chronic, and they can come with or without other symptoms. It is not uncommon to experience a sore throat, cough, or fever while having a sinus headache.
Who Suffers from Sinus Headaches?
Sinus headaches are relatively rare, yet they impact the lives of many people on an occasional basis. Oftentimes, migraine headaches and cluster headaches are misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. Some studies indicate that around 90 percent of people who go to a doctor because they think they have a sinus headache actually have a migraine instead. But unlike migraines, sinus headaches are not typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or heightened sensitivity to light and noise.
Symptoms of Sinus Headaches
Sinus headaches can be very painful and get in the way of you living your daily life. They are commonly accompanied by the following symptoms.
- 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
Sinus Headache Triggers
In most people, sinus headaches occur after viral upper respiratory infections and colds. They are caused by acute infections and are often accompanied by fever. This causes the sinus ducts to become blocked and prevents normal drainage of the sinus cavity. Factors that trigger the onset of sinus headaches include infections, nasal polyps, and deformities of the sinus cavity. This includes conditions like a deviated septum that blocks your sinus ducts.
Although allergies are not believed to be a direct cause of sinus headaches, they may be triggers for reoccurrence. Many types of allergies cause sinus congestion, which can lead to a headache. Common allergies that lead to headaches include pollen, grass, and ragweed. In most cases, allergies and sinus headaches must be treated separately with different types of medication.
Preventative Measures for Sinus Headaches
When you feel a sinus headache coming on, avoid bending over or lying down, as this can make the symptoms worsen. Overall, the best way to relieve sinus headaches is to reduce the swelling and inflammation in your sinuses so that mucus can drain properly. Fortunately, there are some easy preventative measures that you can take to prevent sinus headaches and alleviate the pain they cause.
Simply breathing in moist, humid air from a steam vaporizer, cool mist humidifier, or even a hot shower can provide relief. You can alternate using hot and cold compresses across your sinus region for 30 second each, several times per day. Nasal irrigation may help reduce the swelling of your sinus membranes and boost drainage as well. Some sufferers of sinus headaches have also consulted Chinese herbalists for natural treatments that include magnolia flower, mint, and chrysanthemum to unclog sinuses and nasal passages.
Solutions for Sinus Headaches
For serious and prolonged sinus headaches, some medical professionals prescribe antibiotics, decongestants, and even surgical drainage in the worst cases. To determine the cause of your headache and diagnose your condition, a doctor may conduct a sinus x-ray to evaluate your sinuses for congestion and other issues that can be treated.