Do You Really Have
Sinus Headache Symptoms?

It's critical to tell the difference between sinus headache symptoms and the symptoms of other conditions - particularly migraine.  The solution will be quite different for each!

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for a sinus headache, possibly nasal sprays (for certain types of sinus headaches only), and occasionally, in severe cases, the sinuses need to be drained.  Antibiotics do take a while to work, so if your headache is gone within a day or so, consider the possibility that you had had a migraine attack.  If you get a cold or an allergy attack which simply doesn't seem to go away, it may be sinusitis.

How to recognize
Sinus Headache Symptoms

Sinus headache symptoms - not what you think?

When you get an infection and your sinuses become inflamed, that's sinusitis.  You may begin to feel like you have a cold or the flu.

With a sinus headache, you will often deal with post nasal drip, which is a collection of mucus in the back of your throat when you're lying on your back.   You may also be congested.

But here's the catch - these symptoms are also typical of migraine.

A sinus infection will last considerably longer than a migraine attack, which typically doesn't last for longer than 3 days.  If symptoms become worse, you may feel generally sick and even have a fever (with migraine you may feel like you have a fever, but you usually don't).  Fatigue is common.  You may also find that your mucus is thicker than normal and discoloured.


The pain in a sinus headache is usually localized around the eyes, and you may actually feel some tenderness.

It is important for a sinus infection to be treated, because over time the infection can spread to the brain or to the membranes covering the brain.  Be sure to give your doctor as much information as possible if you think you have sinus headache symptoms, so that he doesn't give you antibiotics that you don't need (which could do more harm than good!).

There are different types of sinusitis as well, and your doctor will help you decide which one you're suffering from, and which treatment will work best.

For more information on sinus headache symptoms, read this article from the The American Academy of Otalaryngology.

If you're feeling congested, in the early stages you may be able to avoid sinusitis by drinking plenty of fluids and using a warm steam spa (such as the Conair MDF2R Facial Sauna - a pretty good excuse to pamper yourself when the pain is gone, too!)  Some migraineurs also find relief using items such as a facial sauna.

Other facial steamers

Why all this talk about
Migraine symptoms?

Migraine is most commonly misdiagnosed - by a doctor - as "sinus headache".  It has been estimated that 75% - or even 90% of those who think they have sinus headache actually have migraine!

Doctors (and patients) typically diagnose sinus headache based on typical sinus headache symptoms - runny nose, congestion, and pain or sensitivity in the sinus area.

But as mentioned above, these are all common in migraine.

And this is the case with children as well as adults.  A study in 2013 suggested that symptoms such as these seem to be the rule, rather than the exception in migraine.

This all means that, instead of getting the treatment we need, we could be getting treatment that is unnecessary or even harmful.  Take the time to be sure you have the right diagnosis.

A more careful examination by a doctor who knows your medical history, possibly an endoscopic sinus exam, and careful follow-up, could help avoid misdiagnosis.


Selected References:  Migraine or Sinus Headache? WebMD; "Sinus headache": rhinogenic headache or migraine? An evidence-based guide to diagnosis and treatment. March 2013 Emory University School of Medicine; The aetiology underlying sinus headaches. February 2013 Balikesir University; Cranial autonomic symptoms in pediatric migraine are the rule, not the exception. July 2013 University of California; Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches November 2005 Teri Robert; "Sinus Headache" or Migraine 2011 Dr. Susan Hutchinson