Sinuses are air-filled cavities (spaces) located in your forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of your nose. The sinuses drain through channels in the nose. When a sinus becomes inflamed, usually as the result of an allergic reaction, a tumor, or an infection, the inflammation causes swelling and increased mucus production and the channels can become blocked. The increased pressure in the sinuses causes a pain similar to that of a headache.
Sinus Headaches Symptoms
Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining. The pain is usually accompanied by other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.
Although many chronic headaches are labeled sinus headaches, most of these chronic headaches are in fact migraine or tension headaches. The treatment varies depending on the type of headache. That is why it is important for your doctor to determine whether your headache symptoms are actually caused by your sinuses. If your headache is truly caused by a sinus blockage, such as an infection, you will likely have a fever. Usually the history and physical exam are sufficient to determine if there is a blockage in your sinuses, but in some instances, CT and MRI scans will be needed.
Sinus Headache Treatment
Treatment of sinus headaches is usually directed toward symptom relief and treating the infection. Treatment might include antibiotics for the infection, as well as a short period of antihistamines (such as Benadryl) or decongestants (such as Sudafed) to treat the symptoms. Inhaled nasal decongestants (such as Afrin) can also be used but only for up to three days. Longer use causes a rebound effect and can make your symptoms worse.
Other drugs to treat sinus infections include pain relievers, or if they don't provide relief, corticosteroids may be prescribed to further decrease the inflammation. When an allergen is causing the sinus flare-ups, preventive allergy therapy is often needed.
Simple measures such as drinking more fluids and using a humidifier or salt water nasal spray can be helpful in treating sinus headaches.
Both decongestant and pain relieving medications, if taken too often, can cause medication overuse headaches. It is very important to consult your doctor if you use any medication for a long time for headache relief. Decongestants also can increase blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before using these medications.
In rare cases, your doctor may recommend sinus surgery to remove polyps or open up small or chronically swollen sinuses.
Allergies and Sinus Headaches
It is a misconception that allergies cause sinus headaches. However, allergies can cause sinus congestion, which can lead to headache pain. If you have allergies, the treatment for your allergy will not relieve your headache pain. The two conditions generally must be treated separately. See your doctor to ensure proper treatment.