Sinus headache refers to head and facial pain associated with inflammation of the sinuses (called
). The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull that have openings into the nose.
cause inflammation of the nasal passages and can lead to sinusitis. Sinus headache is a symptom of sinusitis.
Sinus Headache: Areas of Pain
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Allergies and viral upper respiratory infections increase nasal secretions and cause tissue lining the nasal passages to swell. This results in nasal congestion and stuffiness. The nasal passages become blocked and normal drainage cannot occur. Secretions that are trapped in the sinuses may become infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissue or infection may create pain and pressure.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for sinus headache include: AllergiesAsthma
upper respiratory infectionEar infectionsNasal polypsTooth abscess or infectionEnlarged tonsils or adenoids
Nasal deformities, such as a
deviated septumCystic fibrosisProblems with immunityPrior sinus surgeryFacial injuries that block sinus passagesTraveling in an airplane if you have an upper respiratory infectionSwimming in dirty water
Symptoms of sinus headache may include: Pain and tenderness behind the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes and earsPain in the upper teethPain ranging from mild to severePain that is more intense first thing in the morningPain that may worsen when you bend over
Headache occurring with other symptoms of sinusitis, including:
Nasal stuffiness and congestionThick nasal drainagePostnasal dripFeverFatigueStuffy earsSore throatCoughPuffiness around the eyes
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your nasal secretions may be tested for allergies and infection.
If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, tests may include: CT scan
—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
Nasal endoscopy—uses a thin, lighted tube to look inside your nose and possibly take samples of drainage to be tested
Sinus headache treatment aims to: Open the nasal passagesTreat any infectionAllow sinus cavities to drain
Treatment may include:
Medications may include: Pain relieversDecongestants to open clogged nasal passages, which allows the sinuses to drain—Do not use longer or more often than directed. Overuse of decongestant nose sprays may increase swelling and make your symptoms worse.Steroid nose spray to reduce inflammationDrugs that thin secretionsAntibiotics—only if a bacterial infection has developed
Self-care includes: Breathe warm, moist air. Try inhaling steam.Try a mist of saline nasal spray to moisten the nasal passages and help remove crusty secretions. A saline spray can be used up to six times per day.Ask your doctor for directions on how to perform nasal irrigation that you can do at home.
Do not smoke. If you smoke,
Avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air.
Surgery is usually not required. Patients with a structural abnormality or chronic sinusitis that does not respond to medications may benefit from surgery. The doctor may perform one of several procedures to clean out your sinus cavities.
If you are diagnosed with a sinus headache, follow your doctor's
The following strategies may reduce the risk of getting a sinus headache:
Avoid exposure to anything that
allergy or sinus symptoms.
Seek medical treatment for allergies.Wash your hands
frequently to avoid colds.
Seek treatment for a persistent cold before sinusitis sets in.Avoid alcoholic drinks. Alcohol can cause swelling of nasal and sinus tissues.Check with your doctor about using a decongestant before air travel.
Cady RK, Dodick DW, et al. Sinus headache: a neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment.
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Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at:
. Updated 2005. Accessed July 9, 2009.
Last reviewed September 2013 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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