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Sinus Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

Sinus headaches arise when the air passages that surround the nose, eyes and cheeks become swollen or clogged. The pain is in the front head and face and feels like deep, dull throbbing.

Sinus headaches often occurs in people who have sinusitis or allergies.

Symptoms of Sinus Headaches

  • Pressure around the eyes
  • Pain around the bridge of the nose
  • Face feels tender when touched
  • Nasal congestion/stuffiness
  • Feeling of pressure near the cheeks and forehead
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow or green nasal discharge
  • Pain gets worse when bending over or lying down
  • Bad breath
  • Postnasal drip with sore throat (mucus draining in the back of the nose)
  • Pain is worse with sudden head movements
  • Ear pain and fullness
  • Coughing can increase the pain
  • Head pain is worse in the morning
  • Pain feels confined to one area of the face or head
  • Mild to moderate fever
  • Dental pain

Migraine vs. sinus headaches

Sometimes migraines and sinus headaches are confused. Many people believe they have sinus headaches, but actually suffer from migraine headaches. Unlike sinus headaches, migraines usually include nausea and/or vomiting. Migraine sufferers are sensitive to sound and sensitive to light. In the American Migraine Study II 42% of patients with migraines had been diagnosed with sinus headache by a doctor. A small study of 47 patients who thought they had sinus headaches found that 90% of them actually had migraines.

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Causes of Sinus Headaches

Many sinus headaches start after a bad cold. They can also result from allergies, the flu, bacterial or fungal infections. If there are problems with the body’s immune system or the structure of the nasal cavity, the additional pressure can lead to headaches. Climbing or flying at high altitudes as well as frequent swimming or diving can also contribute to sinus headaches.