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Sinus headaches

Sinus headaches are headaches that may accompany sinusitis, a condition in which the membranes lining your sinuses become swollen and inflamed. You may feel pressure around your eyes, cheeks and forehead. Perhaps your head throbs.

Many people who assume they have sinus headaches, including many who have received a diagnosis of sinus headaches, actually have migraines or tension headaches.

When sinus headaches caused by sinusitis do occur, proper diagnosis and treatment are the keys to relief.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Sinus headache signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, pressure and fullness in your cheeks, brow or forehead
  • Pain worsening when bending forward or lying down
  • Yellow-green or blood-tinged nasal discharge
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Achy feeling in your upper teeth
  • Decreased ability to smell or taste

Sinus headache or migraine?

It's easy to confuse migraines and sinus headaches because the signs and symptoms of the two types of headaches overlap.

As with sinus headaches, migraine pain often gets worse when you bend forward, and migraines can be accompanied by various nasal signs and symptoms — including congestion, facial pressure and a clear, watery nasal discharge. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of people who see a doctor for sinus headaches are found to have migraines instead.

Sinus headaches, however, usually aren't associated with nausea or vomiting or aggravated by noise or bright light — all common features of migraines.

When to see a doctor

Consult your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than 10 days
  • You have a severe headache, and over-the-counter pain medicine doesn't help
  • You have a fever greater than 100.5 F (38 C)
  • You've had several episodes of sinusitis within a year

Sinus headaches accompany sinusitis, a condition in which the membranes lining your sinuses become swollen and inflamed. Sinusitis can be caused by colds, bacterial or fungal infections, an impaired immune system, or structural problems in the nasal cavity. The resulting pressure changes in the sinuses can trigger headaches.

Sinusitis can affect anyone. You may be more likely to develop chronic sinusitis if you have:

  • Asthma
  • Nasal growths (polyps)
  • Allergies to dust, mold or pollen
  • A weak immune system
  • Exposure to pollutants, such as airborne chemicals
  • A condition that affects the way mucus moves within your respiratory system, such as cystic fibrosis
  • Exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke

To reduce the risk of sinusitis, keep your sinuses healthy.

  • Wash your hands often. Soap and water can help you avoid the upper respiratory infections that can lead to sinusitis. You may want to ask your doctor about a yearly flu vaccine as well.
  • Avoid irritants. Avoid cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke. These and other air pollutants can cause your sinus membranes to swell.
  • Use a humidifier. Adding moisture to dry indoor air can help prevent sinusitis — but don't overdo it. High indoor humidity can promote mold and dust mite growth in your home. Be sure the humidifier is clean and kept free of mold.
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