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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Migraine or Sinus Headache?

Got frequent headache pain? Why you need to know whether it's a migraine or a sinus headache.
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Different Treatments continued...

Other drugs, first developed to treat epilepsy, depression, and hypertension can be used to prevent migraine attacks. Botox injections have also been used to help prevent chronic migraines. Hormone therapy may be prescribed for women who have migraines linked to their menstrual cycle.

Lifestyle also matters for migraines. Stress-reducing therapies -- such as exercise, relaxation, and biofeedback -- may also help prevent the recurrence and severity of migraines. Learning your migraine triggers and avoiding them also matters.

Let's say you have a migraine. But you don't know that, and you treat it with pain relievers for what you think is a sinus headache.

That may make matters worse. You might get some temporary relief, but you could wind up with a "rebound" headache afterward.

"A lot of sinus medications contain analgesics [pain relievers]," Silberstein says. "Overuse of analgesics can cause rebound headache."

Masquerading as a Sinus Problem

It's understandable to first suspect a sinus problem if you have a headache, stuffy nose, and watery eyes.

But your body's pain response may have fooled you.

"If you give a human pain in the head, particularly in the forehead," Goadsby says, "there is a reflex that activates nerves that produce eye watering, itchiness of the eye, stuffiness, and runny nose."

"If you didn't know that all forms of pain do that, then those symptoms are [mistakenly] associated with sinus disease," Goadsby says.

When to Get Help

If your headaches interfere with your daily life or don't respond to over-the-counter medications, it's time to see a doctor.

"If you are going to take medicine to treat a headache and are not sure what you have, it's a good time to see a doctor," Goadsby says.

Of course, you should seek medical help immediately if you have a headache that:

  • Gets progressively worse.
  • Is associated with neurological symptoms such as loss of vision or muscle weakness.
  • Is accompanied by a fever or stiff neck.

"If you're complaining to a doctor that you've got a headache that comes and goes, it should be considered migraine until proven otherwise," Silberstein says.

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Reviewed on July 17, 2012

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