Sinus Headaches: Causes, Symptoms,Treatment, Prevention, Differentiating it from Migraine, Risk Factors, Investigations
Sinusitis is a condition in which there is swelling and inflammation of the membranes which line the sinuses. Sinus headaches are those headaches which accompany sinusitis. Other symptoms which the patient experiences is pressure sensation around the eyes, cheeks and forehead. The headache can be of throbbing nature. Headaches due to sinus are often confused with migraines or tension headaches. Actual sinus headaches occur as a result of sinusitis and treating the sinusitis gives relief from sinus headaches.
Causes of Sinus Headaches
Sinusitis is the cause of sinus headaches. Sinusitis is a condition where there is swelling and inflammation of the membranes lining the sinuses. Sinusitis is caused by:
- Common cold
- Infection (bacterial or fungal)
- Impaired immune system
- Any structural problems of the nasal cavity.
Risk Factors of Sinus Headaches
- Nasal growths such as polyps.
- Allergies to dust, pollen or mold.
- Impaired immune system.
- If the patient is exposed to pollutants, like airborne chemicals or irritants, like cigarette smoke.
- If the patient suffers from cystic fibrosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Sinus Headaches
- Pain is felt in cheeks and forehead.
- Feeling of pressure and fullness in cheeks and forehead.
- Worsening pain upon lying down and bending forward.
- There is yellow-green or blood-tinged discharge from the nose.
- Nasal congestion.
- Sore throat.
- Achiness felt in the upper teeth.
- Patient experiences decline in his/her ability to taste or smell.
Serious Symptoms of Sinus Headache That Require Medical Attention Are:
- If the headache along with other symptoms persist beyond 10 days.
- If the headache is very severe and is not relieved by over-the-counter pain killers.
- If you have a fever exceeding 100.5 F (38 C).
- If you have suffered from multiple episodes of sinusitis in a year.
Differentiating Sinus Headaches from Migraine
As the symptoms of both migraines and sinus headaches are similar, so it is easy to confuse between the two. It is very important to differentiate between both these types of headaches and to arrive at a correct diagnosis for correct treatment and relief. There are some points to differentiate between a migraine and a sinus headache. Both have certain similarities such as in both the headaches, the pain worsens upon bending forward.
Like sinus headaches, a migraine headache can also be accompanied by nasal congestion and discharge and feeling of pressure on the face. However, there are certain differentiating points between a migraine and a sinus headache, such as a sinus headache is not accompanied by nausea or vomiting, whereas a migraine headache often is. Sinus headache does not worsen by bright lights or noise, whereas this is a common feature of a migraine headache.
Investigations for Sinus Headaches
- Physical exam and medical history where the doctor will question you about previous history of cold, flu and allergies.
- Nasal endoscopy is done to check your nasal passages.
- Mucus testing is done where samples of mucus are taken from your nose to test for bacterial or fungal infection.
- Imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans can also be done for further assessment.
Treatment for Sinus Headaches
- Antibiotics are the main line of treatment if the sinusitis is caused by bacteria. In case of viral sinusitis, antibiotics won't help and symptomatic treatment is done.
- Corticosteroid pills or nasal sprays help in reducing any inflammation or allergies if present.
- Over-the-counter pain medications, decongestants and saline nasal spray help in relieving symptoms of stuffy nose and headache.
- Increasing your daily fluid intake is also beneficial.
- Nasal saline irrigation helps by shrinking the membrane lining the sinuses and increasing the drainage.
- Surgery is required if the cause of sinusitis is any structural abnormality of the nasal cavity, such as a deviated nasal septum. In such cases surgical correction is recommended.
Prevention of Sinus Headaches
To prevent sinus headaches you have to try and prevent sinusitis. This can be achieved by:
- Maintaining good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, so as to prevent transmission of infections.
- Yearly flu vaccine is recommended.
- Avoiding irritants, such as smoke from cigarette, cigar or pipe.
- Avoiding air pollutants.
- Using a humidifier helps by adding moisture to the dry air present indoors and this in turn helps in preventing sinusitis. However, make sure that the humidifier is free of mold and is always kept clean.