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HeadWay, Issue #037 -- Congestion and migraine
September 07, 2006

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In this month's issue:

Congestion and migraine

Eat something

Say what?! Otolaryngology

Congestion and migraine

More than one recent news story have prompted me to write on migraine, sinus headache and congestion.  The New York Times recently ran an article entitled Scientists Cast Misery of Migraine in a New Light, written by Jane E. Brody.  Part of the article said,"...there is growing evidence that almost all so-called sinus headaches are really migraines.  No wonder then that the plethora of sinus remedies on the market and the endless prescriptions for antibiotics have yielded so little relief for the millions of supposed sinus sufferers."

Then, just when I was getting out my best pen to write this article, another study came out.  Of 294 children and adults, it was found that 34% of those with hay fever also had migraine.  Of those without hay fever, only about 4% had migraine.  Big difference!  (read more here on the hay fever migraine connection)

There is indeed a lot of confusion when it comes to sinus headache and migraine.  One simple reason is that many people aren't aware of one simple fact:

One of the common symptoms of migraine is congestion.

That's right, many migraines look a lot like a sinus headache to many people.  A couple of years ago a small study was done with people who believed they suffered from sinus headache.  It was found that about 86% probably had migraine.

Some of the migraine symptoms include not only congestion but pain in the face (on both sides), red eyes, and a runny nose.  Many people try allergy drugs, or anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen), but in reality a targeted migraine drug would be far more effective.

One of the most shocking revelations from the study I mentioned above (called the Sinus Allergy & Migraine Study) was that 78% had been diagnosed by a doctor as having sinus headache, when only one in ten actually did!

So how do you know if it's really a sinus headache?  Well, the best thing to do would be to talk to a headache expert, especially if the symptoms are recurring, the worst ever, or getting worse.  But often a sinus headache will come with a fever (migraine may feel like it, but usually you won't have a temperature), thick and coloured mucus, and localized pain around the eyes.  A sinus headache may also get worse over 2-3 weeks, while a migraine will probably only last hours or 2-3 days.

It's very important to get a proper diagnosis, and not just "live with it".  Both problems require very different treatments.  Sinusitis may get worse and spread to the membranes around the brain.  It could also lead to chronic problems that may even require surgery.  Read more about the treatment of sinus headache here.

Migraine can also lead to more problems down the road.  More and more research tells us that migraine may do permanent damage.  It needs to be treated.  There's no evidence that those antihistamines are doing you any good either (your migraine attack may have just ended on its own).  Don't waste your money on drugs your body doesn't need.  The best way to treat the congestion is to treat the migraine itself.

Eat something

Often when you're suffering from a headache, you may not feel like eating.  If you have migraine, with or without headache, you may even feel sick to your stomach.  It may be that the very thing you don't want to do will go a long way in helping you feel better...

  • Try to eat and drink something early in the attack.  If it's migraine and you know you'll be sick to your stomach, eating something bland and healthy early on may actually keep you from being sick to your stomach.
  • Try different things and see what works for you.  Your body may be telling you what it needs the most.  But remember not to over do it - if you feel like salty food, don't eat three bags of chips.  Eat small portions, and try to keep it healthy.  Many migraineurs have reported that the very thing they craved was what was triggering the migraine.  Remember to eat a balanced diet - is there anything your body has been missing lately?
  • Remember to eat a healthy diet overall.  That way you'll be less likely to be hit by an attack, and more able to cope if one comes along.
  • If you can, keep eating small portions throughout the day.  You don't have to eat constantly, but you may realize that you've been several hours without anything, and your body may be crying out for some food or liquid.
  • Say what?! Otolaryngology

    Thanks for joining us for this study of Otolaryngology.  What?!  Otolaryngology studies the diseases of the ear, nose and throat, which includes things like sinusitis.  If you have sinusitis, you may have difficulty saying Otolaryngology.  But then again, don't we all?
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