Headache Treatments : How to Relieve a Sinus Headache Naturally
Understanding Sinus Headaches
Is sinusitis causing your headaches, or could something else be to blame? Here's how to tell the difference.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Nearly 30 million Americans are diagnosed with sinusitis — inflammation of the air-filled cavities around the nose — every year, and for many of them, this uncomfortable condition is accompanied by a pounding, throbbing head. But is there really such a thing as a "sinus headache"?
Sinus headache is one symptom of sinus disease, but it's actually an infrequent cause of recurrent headaches, says Ellen Drexler, MD, director of the headache center at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. "In fact, studies have shown that most people who identify themselves as having 'sinus headaches' can actually be diagnosed with migraine."
Sinus Anatomy and Headaches
Sinuses are air-filled cavities located in your forehead, above your teeth, between your eyes, and behind your nose. The sinuses are lined with a mucous membrane that has tiny hairs, called cilia. Mucus helps trap germs and bacteria, moving them out of the sinuses and into your nose for drainage.
When the linings of the sinuses and the inside of your nose become swollen from allergy or infection, mucus can back up inside the sinuses and cause sinusitis. This can lead to an even worse infection and produce intense sinus pressure and pain.
The Signs of a Sinus Headache
A sinus headache rarely occurs without other signs of congestion. When headache is your only symptom, it's probably not related to your sinuses. Here are some ways to tell if you have a sinus headache:
- Sinus pain is located in the sinus areas around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead.
- Sinus pain is often accompanied by bad breath, loss of smell, nasal congestion, or thick discolored mucus.
- Sinus pain usually follows a recent upper respiratory infection or a flare-up of your allergies.
- Sinus headaches are more common in the morning, get worse when you bend over, and are aggravated by damp weather.
- Sinus headaches may be accompanied by fever, sore throat, and postnasal drip.
A sinus headache can occur as part of an upper respiratory infection or follow a typical cold — possibly causing a headache over the involved sinus, explains Drexler. In this case there is often tenderness over the area, and the pain usually begins an hour or so after the patient gets out of bed in the morning. Congestion and mucus production — often yellowish or greenish if there is a bacterial infection, or clear discharge if it's a viral infection — are associated signs, as is fever.
Prevention and Treatment of Sinus Headaches
The best way to prevent a sinus headache is to control allergy symptoms and avoid infections. Steer clear of upper respiratory infections by washing your hands frequently, getting a flu shot, and drinking plenty of fluids to keep your mucous membranes moist and stave off bacteria. Allergy symptoms can best be managed with a combination of nasal sprays, antihistamines, and allergy shots. Keep in mind that overuse of nasal sprays (beyond two to three days) can further irritate the sinuses, leading to what is known as rebound congestion.
Sinus pain can usually be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Warm compresses, saline nasal sprays, and nasal decongestants may also help. If you have a history of high blood pressure or heart problems, talk to your doctor before using oral decongestants (such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine).
If you have persistent allergy symptoms or a cold that lasts longer than five to seven days, you should see your doctor since sinusitis may develop. Sinus infections can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics. Surgical procedures to relieve pressure and restore drainage are sometimes required to relieve chronic sinusitis and sinus headache.
Becoming familiar with the symptoms and causes of sinus pain can help you get the proper treatment and prevent future sinus infections.
Video: Acupressure for Sinus Headaches
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