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Sinus headache – symptoms, causes and management

Sinus headache is felt as a dull and throbbing pain in the upper face. We know that sinuses are air – filled spaces inside our forehead, cheekbones and behind the bridge of our nose. Then sinuses become inflamed, this is usually because of an allergic reaction or an infection, then they swell and make more mucus and the channels that drain them can get blocked. The build – up of pressure in our sinuses can cause pain which feels like a headache. You will feel a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead or the bridge of your nose. Inflamed sinuses (which are also known as sinusitis) are causing an uncommon type of headaches that is known as sinus headache. There are many people who think that they have sinus headache while in fact they have tension – type headache or migraine. When you move your head suddenly or strain, then the sinus headache usually gets stronger. It is very important to visit your doctor if you have type of bad headache which you cannot control with certain medicines and if it lasts a week or more, because in this way you will get the right diagnosis and proper treatment.

Symptoms of a sinus headache

A sinus headache is a constant and throbbing pain which is felt in your face (around your forehead, cheeks and eyes) and usually is felt on one side. In the morning the sinus headache is often the worst and it tend to get better by the afternoon [1]. This pain can get worse when you bend down, strain or move your head and when you are experiencing extreme changes in temperatures such as when you are going from a warm room into freezing air outside. Also this headache can spread to your teeth, upper jaw and other parts of your head. Your face may feel swollen and tender to touch. Also you will have other symptoms of sinusitis such as a high temperature (fever) and green or yellow mucus discharge from your nose. The symptoms of the sinus headache can be very similar to the symptoms of tension – type headache and migraine so in some cases it can be hard to tell which the condition that you have is. The sinus headaches occur with other symptoms such as nasal discharge and fever. If you have headache or facial pain but no other symptoms of sinusitis, then your chances of having tension – type headache or migraine are bigger compared to sinus headache. There are some periods when you can have other sinus symptoms such as [2]

Sinus headache

  • Swelling in your face
  • Pain in the face that may worsen with bending down or straining
  • Fever
  • Feelings of fullness in your ears
  • A runny nose
  • Pain which is radiating to the forehead, temple or cheek

Causes for sinus headache

We know that sinuses are small air spaces in our skulls and they are found behind our cheeks, eyes and nose. Sinuses open into the nose which is allowing mucus to drain and air to circulate normally. When the upper airways or the lining of the nose become infected (for example, with a cold), then the infection can spread to sinuses which is causing them to become swollen. The small openings from our sinuses to our nose can become blocked which can lead to a build – up of pressure inside our sinuses. This condition is known as sinusitis. For some people who suffer from sinusitis, the pressure builds up to such an extent which is causing pain or it can lead to sinus headache. You may feel congested and stuffy for a while but normally this condition is getting better when the cold goes away. [3]

Sinus headaches and sinusitis can last much longer. This usually is happening when the bacteria infect the trapped mucus or when our sinuses repeatedly swell up because of an allergy [4]. Colds, allergies and infections are the most common conditions that can lead to sinus headache. Your doctor will tell you if your sinuses are blocked based on the symptoms that you will describe him and he or she will make a physical exam. But also there are some cases in which doctors need to make MRI or CT scans to diagnose you properly [5]. Your doctor will give you the right treatment for your condition and his goal is to give you a relief from the symptoms of sinus headache and to treat the infection if you have one.


[1] National Headache Foundation. Reader’s mail: What’s up with morning headache? 2017. Retrieved from

[2] Cady RK, Dodick DW, Levine HL, et al. Sinus headache: A neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2005;80(7):908-16.

[3] Eross E, Dodick D, Eross M. The sinus, allergy and migraine study (SAMS). Headache. 2007;47(2):213-24.

[4] American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Headaches connected to allergies and sinus problems. Retrieved from

[5] Valenca MM, Andrade Valenca LPA, Menezes TL. Computed tomography scan of the head in patients with migraine or tension-type headache. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria. 2002;60(3).

Dr. Emil Sarsath (aka) Vijila, a licensed naturopathic doctor (BSMS) who always ensures his patients receive compassionate, and individualized care. He has extensive experience in primary care, digestive health, mental health, nervous system disorder and more.Area of Expertise – Naturopathic Medicine, Whole Foods-based Nutrition, Siddha, Panchakarma.She is always available through [email protected]



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