How To Spot The Difference Between Migraines & Sinus Headaches
If you have a runny nose, watery eyes and your head hurts, you might assume that you have a sinus headache. But studies show that about 90% of self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually migraine.
Theres a belief that sinus headache is a common illness. The marketing of over-the-counter medications designed to treat these symptoms reinforce this belief.. However, a sinus headache is not as common as you might think.
How can you tell if you have migraine or sinus headache and get the treatment you need? Lets start by defining migraine and sinus headache.
Impact Of Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery On Facial Pain
The way FESS influences headache has been under investigation for a lengthy period, and such research may help to provide information on the putative links between sinonasal inflammation and facial pain. Lal stated that 66 of 211 patients undergoing endoscopic sinus surgery experienced pain relief. However, the population studied consisted of a mixture of cases referred from both ENT and neurology departments for sinus pressure or pain. The obstruction relinquished most often where the patient had received neurological input, either previously or concurrently. Indeed, 36% of cases, which had failed to improve on surgical intervention, were then given a primary diagnosis of headache disorder when reviewed by a neurologist. From research with more stringent inclusion criteria , the FESS success rate increases to 75-91.9% ,,,,. A study with a follow-up period of 7 to 8 years noted that 47% of the 51 cases included remained without headache throughout follow-up .
Some studies have looked at cases where FESS was carried out despite no endoscopic or CT confirmation of sinus pathology or anatomical anomaly. Boonchoo carried out FESS in 16 cases where headache existed, but CT findings demonstrated no anomaly. Ten of these ended up completely pain-free, while the remaining 6 had some degree of alleviation. In a similar vein, Cook et al. observed that 12 of 18 cases undergoing the procedure found it of benefit, although none saw their symptoms disappear completely.
The Most Common Misdiagnosis For Migraine Is This
You guessed it, sinus headache.
According to recently published research, over half of all those with migraine who participated in their study were misdiagnosed. The authors concluded that the under-recognition of migraine constitutes a significant public health problem.
Why are so many people not diagnosed?
There are a number of reasons why an individual with symptoms of migraine report that they havent been diagnosed by a health professional. These include:
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What Causes Sinus Headaches’ Pressure
A sinus headache is caused by a buildup of pressure in the sinus cavities. In many ways, it is similar to the ear pressure most patients will develop when they fly or change elevations. The ear is essentially a specialized sinus cavity as it is also a hollow cavity that drains into the nasal region. The difference is ear pressure is easily addressed by âpopping the earsâ via swallowing or a Valsalva maneuver but unfortunately, sinus pressure cannot be relieved that way.
Sinus pressure occurs for one of two reasons:
1. Your sinus passages are narrow or blocked â preventing the normal aeration of the sinus cavity, leading to a buildup of negative pressure and pain
2. Mucus is blocking your sinuses resulting in the same symptoms
Key Differentiators Between Migraines And Sinus Headaches
So, how can you tell whats causing your headache? If youre struggling to identify whether your headache is a migraine or is caused by sinus pressure, the best thing you can do is to seek medical counsel.
However, the two clearest differences are the location of the headache and whether or not youre congested. If you experience the headache pain primarily on one side of your head, you may be more likely to have a migraine.
If youre not congested and have an extremely painful headache, you likely have a migraine. If you are congested and have an extremely painful headache, you may have either a migraine OR a sinus headache.
Another potential indicator is the color of your mucus. Is it clear? If so, you most likely have a migraine. Is it yellowish? If so, your headache is likely caused by sinus pressure.
To learn more about the differences between sinus headaches and migraines, check out our article: How Do I Know if I Have a Sinus Headache?
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Can A Sinus Infection Cause A Fever
Ryan is an experienced health writer helping educate and inform people on all types of important health topics. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Masters of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
Fever often accompanies sinus infections. Having a fever combined with pressure in the face is a sure sign of a sinus infection.
Everyone has experienced a sinus infection, and everyone despises them. Sinusitis is one of the most common and bothersome illnesses on the planet.
Sinus infection is a major health problem. It afflicts 31 million people in the United States. Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on over-the-counter medications to treat it, according to The American College of Asthma & Immunology.
Contracting a sinus infection is pesky but usually not a big deal. However, in some cases, a simple sinus infection can become very severe and even develop life-threatening effects. A sinus infection can also mimic the symptoms of a more serious illness, such as COVID-19.
When To Seek Medical Care
See a doctor if you have:
- Severe symptoms, such as severe headache or facial pain.
- Symptoms that get worse after improving.
- Symptoms lasting more than 10 days without getting better.
- Fever longer than 3-4 days.
You should also seek medical care if you have had multiple sinus infections in the past year.
This list is not all-inclusive. Please see a doctor for any symptom that is severe or concerning.
Other conditions can cause symptoms similar to a sinus infection, including:
- Seasonal allergies
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Rare Cases Can Turn Serious
Antibiotics also can help ward off rare but potentially dangerous complications that arise when a sinus infection spreads to the eyes or brain, Dr. Sindwani says.
Complications around the eyes are the more common of the two. These complications can cause redness, swelling around the eyes and reduced vision, and even lead to blindness in a severe form known as cavernous sinus thrombosis. Serious cases are immediately treated with IV antibiotics. Patients are usually admitted to the hospital for a CT scan to see if fluid needs to be drained, Dr. Sindwani says.
Also in rare cases, sinus infections in the rear center of ones head can spread into the brain. This can lead to life-threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscess, Dr. Sindwani says.
Before antibiotics, people would die from sinusitis, he says. But he emphasizes that such complications are unlikely. In most cases, the bacterial infection goes away, especially if you dont have underlying medical problems.
Its important to monitor your symptoms if you suspect a sinus infection. If the condition lingers or worsens, call your doctor.
What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
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What Is Sinus Pressure
The hallmark of sinus pressure, or sinusitis, is a dull ache in your sinuses caused by inflammation and/or swelling in your nasal passages. Your sinuses are four cavities in your head that are connected by small passages. Sinuses make mucus, which drains out of your nose, cleansing these passages of bacteria and other allergens. However, when these pathways become irritated or inflamed, mucus can build up and cause pain or pressure in the sinuses. Weather, seasonal allergies, or viruses like the common cold can trigger these symptoms. A deviated septum can also contribute to frequent sinus pressure. If you have sinus pressure, it is important to figure out the underlying cause. Recognizing this can help prevent recurrent sinus pressure.
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Other Remedies For Symptom Relief
Staying hydrated can help thin mucus to ease congestion.
Drinking hot liquids such as tea and broth may help relieve your symptoms. Breathing in moist air may also help relieve the discomfort that comes with nasal congestion. Try breathing in steam from the shower, a bowl of hot water, or a mug of tea.
If your voice is hoarse, rest it by avoiding yelling, whispering, and singing.
Placing a warm compress over the inflamed area can help reduce pressure and provide relief.
damages the natural protective elements of your nose, mouth, throat, and respiratory system.
If you smoke, consider quitting. Ask a doctor if you need help or are interested in quitting. Quitting may help prevent future episodes of both acute and chronic sinusitis.
Wash your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu seasons, to keep your sinuses from becoming irritated or infected by viruses or bacteria on your hands.
Using a humidifier during the cooler, dryer months may also help prevent sinus infections.
Talk with a doctor to see if allergies are causing your sinusitis. If youre allergic to something that causes persistent sinus symptoms, you will likely need to treat your allergies to relieve your sinus infection.
You may need to seek an allergy specialist to determine the cause of the allergy. The specialist may suggest:
- avoiding the allergen
- doing allergic immunotherapy
Keeping your allergies under control can help prevent repeated episodes of sinusitis.
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Sinus Pain And Pressure
Fluid trapped in the sinuses can fill the sinus cavities, causing intense pain and pressure. The sinuses may be sensitive to the touch. A person may have an urge to sneeze but be unable to do so.
The pain can be in the cheeks, around the eyes and nose, or in the forehead because these areas are where the sinuses are. Bending over may make the pain worse.
Sometimes, the pressure and pain are intense enough to interfere with sleep.
Sinusitis may also cause the tissue in the nose to swell.
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How Is Sinus Infection Diagnosed
Diagnosis depends on symptoms and requires an examination of the throat, nose and sinuses. Your allergist will look for:
- Discolored nasal discharge
- Bad Breath
If your sinus infection lasts longer than eight weeks, or if standard antibiotic treatment is not working, a sinus CT scan may help your allergist diagnose the problem. Your allergist may examine your nose or sinus openings. The exam uses a long, thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and a light at one end that is inserted through the nose. It is not painful. Your allergist may give you a light anesthetic nasal spray to make you more comfortable.
Mucus cultures: If your sinus infection is chronic or has not improved after several rounds of antibiotics, a mucus culture may help to determine what is causing the infection. Most mucus samples are taken from the nose. However, it is sometimes necessary to get mucus directly from the sinuses.
Knowing what kind of bacteria is causing the infection can lead to more effective antibiotic therapy. A fungus could also cause your sinus infection. Confirming the presence of fungus is important. Fungal sinus infection needs to be treated with antifungal agents, rather than antibiotics. In addition, some forms of fungal sinus infection allergic fungal sinus infection, for example do not respond to antifungal agents and often require the use of oral steroids.
Treating A Sinus Infection
Sinus infections are different from colds because they are caused by bacteria growing in blocked sinuses. Because of this, they may improve with antibiotics. Depending on your situation, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as antibiotics, or other drugs that can help relieve your pain and lessen the swelling in your sinuses.
If you feel you may have a sinus infection that is worsening, visit your urgent care clinic or primary care physician as soon as possible. You could receive treatment to help you recover faster.
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About Author: David Pruitt
David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelors of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014. An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.
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Why Are Sinus Headaches And Migraines Confused For One Another
So, the answer to the question, Can you have sinus pressure but now congestion? is: not likely. But you can have a migraine whether youre congested or not, and this is where the main point of confusion arises.The root cause behind migraines is still up for debate. However the prevailing theory is that migraines are caused by neurological issues in the brain. Even so, the symptoms of sinus pressure can overlap with symptoms of a migraine. For example, patients suffering from either sinus pressure or migraines can experience drainage, watery eyes, and of course, facial pain.
It is a commonly held belief that people who experience migraines have pain on the one side or the otherof their head. While this idea is true for many individuals, many others experience pain in their cheeks and forehead ie, in the exact same place where you would experience sinus pressure. And some people experience sinus pressure on one side of their head.People who experience migraines also frequently claim that factors such as weather changes, allergies, and congestion can act as triggers for their headaches contributing factors also shared with sinus headaches.
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Untreated Sinus Infection Risks
Sinus infections often start to improve on their own after about 10 days. If your symptoms last longer without improving or if they worsen, a doctor may need to treat the underlying cause of the infection.
If a sinus infection affects a sinus cavity close to the brain, it can spread to the brain if left untreated. Though rare, an infection can also pass into the eye socket and cause vision changes or blindness. These types of infections are more common in kids.
While uncommon, a serious fungal sinus infection left untreated may pass into the bones.
Make an appointment with a doctor if you have severe symptoms, or if the following symptoms last longer than 10 days or keep coming back:
- facial pain
Because the cause of your sinus infection can affect your treatment options, its important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if youre looking for a doctor.
If you believe you have chronic or recurring sinusitis, consider asking for a referral to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. You may need imaging and other tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
An ENT specialist can take a culture of nose drainage to better understand the cause of an infection. The ENT specialist can also examine the sinuses more closely and look for any problem in the structure of the nasal passages that could lead to chronic sinus problems.