Not every headache is the consequence of sinus and nasal passage problems. For example, many patients visit an ear, nose, and throat specialist to seek treatment for a sinus headache and learn they actually have a migraine or tension headache. The confusion is common, a migraine can cause irritation of the trigeminal or fifth cranial nerve (with branches in the forehead, cheeks and jaw). This may produce pain at the lower-end branches of the nerve, in or near the sinus cavity.
Pain in the sinus area does not automatically mean that you have a sinus disorder. On the other hand, sinus and nasal passages can become inflamed leading to a headache. Headache is one of the key symptoms of patients diagnosed with acute or chronic sinusitis. In addition to a headache, sinusitis patients often complain of:
However, it is important to note that there are some cases of headaches related to chronic sinusitis without other upper respiratory symptoms. This suggests that an examination for sinusitis be considered when treatment for a migraine or other headache disorder is unsuccessful.
Sinus headaches are associated with a swelling of the membranes lining the sinuses (spaces adjacent to the nasal passages). Pain occurs in the affected region – the result of air, pus, and mucus being trapped within the obstructed sinuses. The discomfort often occurs under the eye and in the upper teeth (disguised as a headache or toothache). Sinus headaches tend to worsen as you bend forward or lie down. The key to relieving the symptoms is to reduce sinus swelling and inflammation and facilitate mucous drainage from the sinuses.
There are several at-home steps that help prevent sinus headache or alleviate its pain. They include:
If none of these preventative measures or treatments is effective, a visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist may be warranted. During the examination, a CT scan of the sinuses may be ordered to determine the extent of blockage caused by chronic sinusitis. If no chronic sinusitis were found, treatment might then include allergy testing and desensitization (allergy shots). Acute sinusitis is treated with antibiotics and decongestants. If antibiotics fail to relieve the chronic sinusitis and accompanying headaches, endoscopic or image-guided surgery may be the recommended treatment.