Back to Back Issues Page
HeadWay, Issue #083 -- Sinus Headache
September 30, 2010

*Please note: URLs may wrap onto the next line. To visit the website, cut and paste the entire URL into your address bar on your browser*

In this month's issue:

Sinus Headache

Recent Don't-Miss Posts at Headache and Migraine News

Say what?!  Angiogram

Sinus Headache

Every month, thousands of people come to the website looking for information about sinus headaches.  Sinus pain and accompanying symptoms are such a common problem, it's time to give a quick-and-easy HeadWay summary of sinus headaches in general.

Do I have sinusitis?

When most people think of sinus headaches, they think of sinusitis.  In short, sinusitis is the inflammation of the cavities around your nasal passages - your sinuses.  This is often caused by an infection.  Mucus builds up, making it hard to breathe through your nose.

There are two kinds of sinusitis - acute (also called acute rhinosinusitis) and chronic.  Sinusitis becomes chronic when it lasts for more than eight weeks, or keeps coming back.

Chronic sinusitis can also be caused by an infection, or a growth in the sinuses or even a deviated nasal septum.

Now, here's how to tell if you might have sinusitis.  Obviously headache may be one of the symptoms.  Also congestion, facial pain, a cough, and thick yellowish or greenish mucus in the nose.  You'll often feel like you have the flu, and the symptoms will persist and usually get worse over a few days.

Sinusitis, especially the chronic kind, may result in pain all over the body.  You may even end up with a fever.

Don't have all the symptoms?

You don't have to have all the common symptoms to be diagnosed with sinusitis.  However, there's a classic problem of misdiagnosis here.  It has been estimated that most people diagnosed with sinusitis or sinus headache may actually have migraine!

Why?  Because many of the symptoms listed above are very common to migraine.  Headache is one, of course.  But also facial pain, which may be mistaken for "sinus pain", is common in migraine.

But the biggest surprise for many people is that congestion is very common in a migraine attack.

How can you tell the difference between migraine and sinusitis?  Well, if the pain comes and goes, lasting only a few hours or a day or two, that's a reason to suspect migraine.  As we've said, sinus headaches tend to get worse as the days go by.

Also, if some of the other symptoms are present - fever, yellowish/greenish discharge, and cough, that's a reason to suspect sinusitis.  If those symptoms aren't there, you may have migraine.

Treatment of Sinus Headache

Any time you have a headache with different symptoms than you've had before, or worst-ever symptoms, you need to see your doctor (whether you suspect it's migraine or sinusitis or something else).  But often your doctor will simply prescribe home care, if you do have a sinus headache.

Saline nasal sprays are common, as well as a nasal rinse.  Sometimes that will be all you need.  Your doctor will also recommend you rest and drink plenty of fluids.  You may also want to use steam - breathing in moist air helps with pain and drainage.

In occassional cases your doctor may prescribe something medicated, such as nasal corticosteroids or a decongestant.  These are temporary.  In the case of the decongestant, it's very easy to make the problem worse over time - be cautious and talk to your doctor.

Very rarely a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.  Why rare?  Because even bacteria-caused sinusitis will usually disappear on its own.  If there is a severe and/or recurring case of sinusitis, your doctor may consider antibiotics.  If your doctor is quick to prescribe antibiotics, you may want a second opinion.

In the meantime, you still have a headache, right?  Well, the headache can usually be treated with a mild over the counter medication such as acetaminophen / paracetamol, aspirin, or ibuprofen.  Again, these are temporary measures to use for a few days at most.

If you've been diagnosed with migraine, you may find that the sinusitis is triggering attacks.  In this case, use the medication for migraine that you've discussed with your doctor.

You can also try a warm compress on your face to ease the pain, like a warm, damp towel.

I think I have Migraine

So all your friends say it's sinus headache, even your doctor says it's sinus headache, but you think it's migraine.  What do you do?

First, double check your symptoms.  Keep track of when you have pain and other symptoms, and write it down.

You may need to get a second opinion, or talk to your doctor again once you've gathered more information.  Here's some more information on sinus headache symptoms.

Recent Don't-Miss Posts at Headache and Migraine News

Here are some of the news and information that has been posted recently:

Say what?!  Angiogram

An angiogram is a type of x-ray test which uses a special dye and a camera to take pictures of blood flow in an artery or vein.  Angiograms are often used to find a bulge in a blood vessel known as an aneurysm.  Although you won't usually be tested with an angiogram for headache, if your doctor suspects aneurysm she may ask for this test.  Cardiovascular health is strongly linked to migraine, especially certain types of migraine.

Thanks for reading!  Remember, if you have feedback or ideas for future issues, visit the HeadWay MailRoom.  Your password is nomoache.
Back to Back Issues Page