Sinus Headache: All you need to know

A sinus headache is a type of a headache that accompanies sinusitis. It can be felt in the form of a deep, throbbing pain sensation in the face and front of the head. The pressure in the face is localized around the forehead, eyes and cheeks.

A sinus headache usually begins as soon a person wakes up in the morning, worsening upon bending, and gradually improving as the day progresses.

Diagnosis can be difficult as the symptoms are quite similar to a migraine and tension headache.

What are the causes of the disorder?

Under normal conditions, sinuses or the hollow cavities between the bones of the nose, drain the mucous they produce and allow proper air circulation. During sinusitis, the sinuses get blocked, preventing the drainage. The resulting congestion and inflammation (sinusitis) can cause headaches.

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What one needs to know about symptoms or signs?

Let us try to understand the symptoms of a sinus headache, in order to better diagnose and treat it.

Symptoms of sinus headaches include:

  • Painful pressure felt in a specific area of the head or face
  • Worsening of pain upon sudden movements of the head or bending
  • Worsening of pain with sudden changes in temperature
  • Face tenderness
  • Intense pain in the morning (due to an overnight accumulation of mucous), which gradually begins to improve as the day progresses

Other symptoms that may occur as a result of sinusitis are:

  • Swelling in the nasal passage
  • A sore throat and nasal dripping
  • Fatigue, fever

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Which specialist should be consulted in case of signs and symptoms?

In case of the above symptoms, a person should consult an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, also known as an otolaryngologist.

What are the screening tests and investigations done to confirm or rule out the disorder?

Sinus headaches may be diagnosed through:

  • Physical exam and medical history – The doctor checks the nasal passages and looks for face tenderness. S/he also questions the patient regarding any history of smoking or allergies.
  • Mucous testing – Mucous samples may be taken to look for fungal or bacterial infection.
  • Nasal endoscopy – The doctor looks for signs of sinusitis using a thin, lighted tube (endoscope).
  • Imaging tests – A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan creates images of the nasal passage and confirm sinusitis.

What treatment modalities are available for management of the disorder?

Treatment for a sinus headache involves tackling the underlying sinusitis. This involves:

  • Medication – The medications used to treat it are as following:
    • Nasal sprays (corticosteroids) reduce inflammation and other symptoms.
    • Antibiotics may be needed in case of headaches resulting from bacterial sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis requires a longer dose of antibiotics, up to few weeks.
    • Antihistamines are given to treat allergies causing sinusitis and the headaches.
    • Decongestants can be found over-the-counter to relieve symptoms.
  • Home remedies – Sinus congestion and the resulting headaches can be reduced through the following:
    • Saline nasal spray
    • Steam inhalation
    • Head and neck stretches
    • Avoiding contact with allergies and irritants
  • Surgical procedure – When medication and home remedies fail, surgery is recommended to enlarge sinus opening and remove polyps or bone spurs.

Also, read about: Sinus Infection.

How can the disorder be prevented from happening or recurring?

Prevention of sinus headaches includes reducing the risk of developing sinusitis through:

  • Practicing good hand hygiene (washing hands often)
  • Avoiding contact with irritants and pollutants
  • Using a humidifier to reduce moisture in a room
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