What Is A Sinus Headache
If youre suffering from a sinus headache, youll experience a feeling of pain and pressure around your cheekbones, eyes, forehead and the bridge of your nose. You might find that the discomfort increases when you lie down.
Other sinus headache symptoms include:
- Facial swelling
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Soreness near your upper teeth
Sinus headaches are caused by sinusitis, or inflamed sinuses. The swelling might arise as the result of an infection. A blockage in your nasal cavity can also cause swelling. If you have allergies, you might also experience sinus congestion along with your headache.
When treating a sinus headache, your doctor may offer antibiotics to treat an infection thats causing a sinus headache. Antihistamines, pain relievers and decongestants might also help further reduce symptoms. A humidifier and saltwater nasal spray can be useful too.
How To Tell The Difference Between A Migraine And A Sinus Headache
An actual sinus headache, also called rhinosinusitis, is not as common as most people think. The most common causes of a sinus headache are viral or bacterial infections. These infections can cause yellowish thick nasal discharge, diminished smell/ taste, fever, headaches, bad breath, cough, and pain in the teeth or ears. The typical treatment includes antibiotics and should clear up within seven days.
Migraines, on the other hand, are more than just bad headaches. According to The American Migraine Foundation, migraines affect at least 39 million patients in the U.S. alone. But, as many people do not have a correct diagnosis, the real number is potentially much larger. The most common symptoms of migraines include headaches accompanied by pounding or throbbing sensation, sensitivity to light, sound, or other stimuli, nausea, nasal congestion with thin, clear mucus, and fatigue.
Its an excellent idea to schedule a visit with your doctor when your headaches grow worse over time or become more frequent when over-the-counter medication ceases to provide relief and begins to interfere with your ability to function at a normal level.
How Do Allergies Cause Migraines
So how, exactly, can these allergies cause migraines? There are several mechanisms that we suspect explain why people with these allergies may also get migraines:
Inflammation. This results in the activation of cells close to the brain’s outer layer and trigeminal nerve, causing pain.
Nasal congestion, which irritates the trigeminal nerve in the nose. Taking decongestants to treat this symptom of allergic rhinitis can thus reduce the risk of migraine.
Sleep disturbances. Having allergy symptoms makes it harder to sleep, aggravating migraine symptoms.
Parasympathetic nerve activation. Allergy and asthma flare-ups cause dysregulation of the body’s digestion response, resulting in dehydration, hunger, and fatigue, which can all cause migraines in some people.
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Treating Allergies Could Help With Migraine
There are certainly scenarios where treating allergies may help headaches, says Strauss. But what we want to avoid is spending years cycling through tons of allergy medicines if someone is having severe headaches. There are other medications wed want to try, she says.
If you have migraine attacks that seem to really be triggered by certain changes in the environment for example, higher pollen or if there is really a lot of nasal congestion or runny nose, then I think it may be worth exploring the role of allergies, says Hamilton.
Strauss suggests keeping a yearly calendar year to see if there are certain months or seasons when migraine attacks become a problem.
This can tip you off if its related to something in the environment, and you could talk with your doctor. It may help to take preventive migraine medications or allergy medicine during those months, she says.
How Often Is Migraine Misdiagnosed As Sinus Headache
A studyof almost 3,000 patients with self-diagnosed or doctor diagnosed sinus headaches showed that 88% of the patients actually had migraine according to ICHD3 criteria, not sinus headaches! The most common sinus symptoms reported in that study were sinus pressure , sinus pain , and nasal congestion .
Another study called the American Migraine Study II showed similar results. This was a study involving 30,000 patients. About 50% of patients who were eventually diagnosed with migraine had been previously misdiagnosed, and the most common prior misdiagnosis was sinus headache.
Yet another study that looked at 100 patients with self-diagnosed sinus headaches. After a detailed history and exam, patients were given headache diagnoses based on the ICHD3 criteria. Of the 100 patients with self-diagnosed headache, 86% were diagnosed with a migraine related headache disorder, rather than a sinus related headache.
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What Are Sinus Headaches
Real sinus headaches are almost always from a sinus infection. Sinus infections are common with 10% to 30% of the population experiencing at least one sinus infection each year.
Sinus infections are also known as sinusitis or rhinosinusitis. This occurs when the sinus becomes inflamed. Common symptoms include thick nasal mucous, blocked nose and facial pain. Sinus infections may be caused by an infection, allergy or air pollution. Most cases are due to viral infection. Infections are often transmitted through coughing, sneezing, kissing, contact with contaminated surfaces, food or water or contact with infected animals or pets.
To understand how sinus headaches are confused with migraine its important to know what migraine is.
Your Sinus Headache Could Actually Be A Migraine Headache
Most people have experienced some sort of headache at some point, whether it be in the form of a piercing migraine or a tight tension headache after your computer crashed. Headaches come in all shapes and sizes and from multiple different causes.
The sinuses of the facial bones are air-filled spaces, with a pair across the forehead and brow , two pairs along the bridge of the nose , and the largest pair of sinuses across the cheeks . Sinuses help to retain heat, make the skull lighter, humidify inhaled air, and even help the voice to resonate more loudly. Sinuses can also sometimes be a pain in the neck , particularly when they succumb to allergy or infection. The mucosal lining of these sinuses can become inflamed and swollen and may get a little over-enthusiastic about the production of mucus and pus, which leads to congestion and a build-up of pressure in the affected sinus cavity.
A short foray into the available literature online will tell you that sinus headaches arent as straightforward or common as many people think. Studies have found approximately 90% of headaches diagnosed either by a healthcare professional or by self-diagnosis as a sinus headache are in fact migraine headaches.
- Nasal congestion
- Facial or dental pain, usually just on one side of the face
- Facial swelling
Specific to a bacterial rhinosinusitis, additional symptoms may also include fever, fatigue, and pressure in the ear.
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Whats The Difference Between A Sinus Headache And A Migraine Headache
While sinus headaches are caused by a viral or bacterial infection, the cause of migraine headaches is, in large part, unknown. It involves a complex interplay between nerves, brain tissue, blood vessels, and brain chemicals. What makes it so complex is that in addition to the cause being unknown, they can be triggered by almost anything, from red wine, to bright lights, to not getting enough sleep one night .
While migraine pain can be noted in the cheek area and involve nasal membrane swelling like sinus headaches, theyâre often associated with very different symptoms.
For example, migraines can be associated with light and /or sound sensitivity and nausea, with or without vomiting. These are only seen with sinus headaches on very rare occasions. On the flip side, migraine headaches are typically not associated with thick discolored nasal discharge or fever.
Do Allergies Cause Migraines Heres What You Need To Know
Medically reviewed by Emily Maurer, NP on September 1, 2020
For people who suffer from migraines, avoiding something that could potentially trigger a headache is an absolute must. While it may be easy to stay away from certain foods, drinks, and activities, allergies are much more difficult to work around.
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General Sinus Face Massage
To start, place your four fingers on each of your temples and gently massage in a circular motion. If you feel a tense spot, hold and breathe for several seconds. You can continue along parts of your forehead and hairline.
Next, take your thumb and index finger and place them on your eyebrow closest to your nose while gently pinching down. Hold this position for several seconds. Slowly work your way across the eyebrow toward your ear.
Then take four fingers and place them on the inside of your cheekbone near the bottom of your nose. Gently press and drag your fingers outward. Repeat several times.
As you finish toward the outside of your ear, gently massage the temporomandibular joint , which connects the lower jaw to the skull. If you cant find it, open your mouth and you should be able to feel it protrude out.
Finally, make a V with your fingers by separating your middle and index fingers from your ring and pinky fingers. Bring your fingers to your ear and slowly massage this area in an upward and downward motion.
Placing a warm, damp washcloth over your forehead may help soothe a sinus headache.
According to the 2007 edition of the Clinical Practice Guideline: adult sinusitis, with sinusitis symptoms lasting less than 7 days, is assumed to be viral in nature, while symptoms lasting more than 10 days are assumed to be bacterial acute sinusitis. Learn more about Viral vs. Bacterial sinus infections.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Sinus Headaches
What are the symptoms of sinus headaches? Sinus headaches cause deep, constant pain in the forehead, bridge of the nose, and cheekbones. Sudden head movement or straining can make the pain worse. Nasal discharge, full feeling in the ears, fever, and swelling of the face are all common symptoms of sinus headaches. These headaches can disrupt a persons everyday life, especially if they become a chronic problem.
Do migraine headaches cause sinus pain? Not typically. Migraine headaches are often mistaken for sinus headaches but are generally not caused by sinus congestion. While not causal, migraine headaches can be associated with sinus and nasal congestion. According to studies, over 95% of headaches labeled sinus headaches are in fact migraines. Therefore, while nasal congestion can accompany a migraine, it is most likely not the cause of the headache and should be treated separately.
How can I tell if my headache is a sinus headache and not a migraine? There are a few ways to tell if your headache is being caused by a sinus cavity blockage or infection. Often, the headache is accompanied by fever if the headache is sinus-related. Dr. Ummat may order a CT scan, MRI, or endoscopy to see if a sinus blockage is to blame for your headaches.
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How To Tell If Youre Experiencing A Migraine Or Allergies
Its common for people with allergies to experience sinus headaches. Unfortunately, its also the case that people with allergies are more likely to get migraine headaches. Telling the difference between the two is key to getting the proper treatment. We review the similarities and differences below and provide an overview of treatment options.
Managing Allergy Headaches And Triggers
The key to managing your allergies and reducing headaches is limiting exposure to allergens and triggers.
- Stay indoors and keep the windows shut when pollen counts are high.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses outdoors to keep pollen from getting in your eyes.
- Use the air conditioning in your home and in your car. Make sure to change out the air filters regularly and keep AC units clean.
- Use mite-proof covers in your bedroom for pillows, comforters, and mattresses to reduce exposure to dust mites.
- Keep your homes humidity at 30-50% to reduce exposure to mold. Clean your kitchen, bathrooms, and basement regularly and use a dehumidifier in damp, humid places.
- Wash floors with a damp mop or rag to avoid dry-sweeping or dusting.
- If you are allergic to a pet, keep them outside of your home. If a pet must be kept indoors, keep it out of the bedroom so you are not exposed to allergens while you sleep.
- Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile or linoleum to reduce dander in the home.
Many sinus headache triggers are airborne and difficult to avoid. Discuss your options with your allergist to decide which treatment options are best for you.
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Can Treating My Allergies Prevent Migraine Attacks
So, if you have allergies and migraine, what can you do to feel better?
Well, you can start by treating your allergies. Just like with other migraine triggers, avoiding the trigger in the first place can help you have fewer attacks.
One study found that immunotherapy for allergies helped younger patients get headaches less often.
That said, Dr. Crystal has noticed in her own practice that for some of her patients, starting allergy shots can cause migraine to get worse in the short-term. âPre-treating with an anti-inflammatory prior to the shots may help.â
Treating Allergies To Lessen Migraine
Managing your allergies can make a big difference for those who have allergies and migraine. Taking allergy medication can reduce nasal congestion and inflammation caused by allergies. If youre looking for a long term solution, consider asking your doctor about allergy shots, which can reduce or eliminate allergies.
To combat outdoor allergies:
- Wear a mask while doing yard work
- Keep the windows in your house and vehicle closed
- Spend more time indoors on windy days
- Track the pollen count each morning and make a plan
To combat indoor allergies:
- Wear a mask while cleaning
- Wash bedding and deep clean rugs and furniture regularly
- Use an air purifier
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Migraines And Allergic Rhinitis
There are a few ways that respiratory allergies could affect your migraines. First, there is a clear relationship between inflammation and allergies. An inflammatory reaction caused by allergies leads to the release of chemicals and these chemicals can, in turn, trigger migraines. Second, allergic rhinitis causes nasal congestion. This could irritate nerves in the nose and sinuses and provoke a migraine. Finally, allergies have been shown to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which could also affect the number of migraines you experience.
At least one study has suggested that people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience a migraine than people without allergic rhinitis. Also, it showed that allergic rhinitis may increase the frequency of ones migraines. Other studies have shown a relationship between allergic asthma and migraine headaches. Unfortunately, it is not clear what is causing allergies and asthma in these patients.
Treatment of allergic rhinitis may help prevent or treat headaches in people that seem to have allergy-based triggers to their migraines. Unfortunately, there have been few studies performed that can prove or disprove this.
Allergies Can Trigger Migraines
There is evidence that people with allergies are more likely to experience migraines. One study from 2012 found that 37% of study participants with allergies had a history of migraines compared to just 5% of those without allergies.
While migraines are not part of an allergic reaction, it may be the case that certain allergens can trigger neurological changes that lead to migraine headaches.
Meanwhile, sinus headaches caused by allergies are the result of fluid buildup in the sinuses that cause pain and pressure.
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How Do I Get Rid Of A Sinus Headache
To get rid of a sinus headache, you have to treat the underlying cause. But you can take steps to ease sinus pressure and pain at home:
- Apply a warm compress to painful areas of the face.
- Use a decongestant to reduce sinus swelling and allow mucus to drain.
- Try a saline nasal spray or drops to thin mucus.
- Use a vaporizer or inhale steam from a pan of boiled water. Warm, moist air may help relieve sinus congestion.
Viruses, bacteria and sometimes fungi cause sinus infections. Viral infections often go away on their own. But if your infection is bacterial or fungal, you need antibiotics or antifungal medications. Your healthcare provider may also recommend other medications to ease discomfort, such as:
- Antihistamines to prevent allergy symptoms.
- Pain relievers to ease headache pain.
- Steroids to reduce inflammation.
Migraines with sinus symptoms
Sinus headaches that are actually migraines need a different type of treatment. The first step is to relieve your pain. You should know that frequently using over-the-counter medications when you have a headache can cause even more headaches .
Your provider may recommend prescription medication for migraine pain. You may also need a preventive medication that helps you have fewer migraine attacks.
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Can Sinus Pressure Cause Migraines
Sinus headaches and migraines are often commonly confused, but its important to know which type of headache you have since that affects the type of treatment you need.
In this blog, Dr. Cecil Yeung of Houston Sinus Surgery at the Yeung Institute explains more about sinus headaches and migraines, including whether sinus pressure can cause migraines.
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People With Migraine Are More Likely To Have Allergies
Migraine and allergies are both very common conditions, and its not at all unusual for people to have both, according to Katherine Hamilton, MD, an assistant professor of clinical neurology and a headache specialist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.
Its also been shown in studies that people with migraine are more likely to have allergies, and people with allergies are more likely to have migraine, though we don’t understand exactly why that link exists. It may potentially be related to genetic factors, says Dr. Hamilton.
A study published in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences found that migraine frequency in people with allergic rhinitis was four times higher than in those without allergic rhinitis. Of those with migraine, 95 percent experienced migraine without aura and 5 percent had migraine with aura.