Ear, Nose & Throat

What Does a Sinus Pressure Headache Feel Like?

written by Becki Andrus
What Does a Sinus Pressure Headache Feel Like?

Do you feel increasing pressure and pain in the forehead and facial areas? Then you might be experiencing a sinus headache. These symptoms are uncomfortable in the beginning but can develop into severe symptoms that make it challenging to get through your daily activities.

What Causes Sinus Headaches?

When you are experiencing a sinus headache, it is usually happening because of congestion that is building in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes.

Typically, these sinus cavities are filled with air. But an infection in the sinuses can result in inflammation and congestion, making it difficult for the sinuses to drain normally. The conditions are perfect for promoting ongoing infection, and patients often need to seek medical care to resolve these health concerns.

Symptoms: Identifying a Sinus Headache

Keep in mind that other kinds of headaches can feel similar to a sinus headache. But there are other symptoms associated with the headache that can indicate whether it is happening because of sinus issues.

For example, notice if there are specific triggers that bring on the sinus headache. When you are experiencing these headaches simultaneously with a head cold or seasonal allergies, it’s a good indication that the sinuses are the underlying cause.

Symptoms vary for each patient. But the most common symptoms of a sinus headache include a headache accompanied by one or more of these symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fever
  • Yellow or green nasal discharge
  • Pressure behind the forehead
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Headache pain increases when leaning down
  • Swelling and redness in the nose, cheeks, or forehead

What a Sinus Headache Feels Like

Headache pain associated with pressure in the facial area is the most common sign that you are experiencing a sinus headache. Not only do you have a headache, but you also notice pain symptoms in the sinus areas specifically.

The location of this sinus pain depends on the particular sinuses that are affected. Sinus cavities are located in the upper cheek area, behind the eyes, and in the forehead behind and above the eyebrows

Not only do you have pain and pressure in these areas, but you will likely notice that the sinuses are sensitive to the touch. Sometimes the pain radiates into other parts of the face, including the back of the head. Patients also experience dental pain at times.

Pay attention to how your jaw feels because you might notice an aching sensation or a sense of fatigue.

How Does a Sinus Headache Differ from a Migraine?

It’s easy to confuse sinus headaches and migraines. In fact, some people think that they have a sinus headache when they are actually experiencing a migraine. You might talk to a doctor about migraine treatment, then find out that the sinuses are actually the root cause.

The best way to determine whether you have a migraine or sinus infection is by paying attention to the way your sinuses are responding. When congestion and nasal issues occur with the pain, it’s a good indication that treating the sinuses will clear up the headache.

On the other hand, migraines are often associated with other symptoms that aren’t common for sinus headaches: dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to sound and light. When these symptoms are present, you are likely having a migraine attack, not a sinus headache.

What Causes Sinus Headaches?

Whether you are experiencing your first sinus headache or this is a chronic condition you want to overcome, it’s important to understand the common causes. Addressing the underlying health issues is the most effective way to clear up the symptoms and reduce your pain.

Sinus headaches are often secondary conditions to other health issues. For example, patients often have sinus congestion from an illness or allergies. This congestion increases the risk of sinus infections, which causes a headache to develop.

Common causes of sinus headaches include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Deviated septum
  • Structural issues blocking nasal drainage

Sinus Headache Treatment Suggestions from an ENT

If the sinus headache is minor, then at-home treatments might be sufficient to clear up the infection. However, because the majority of sinus infections are viral, doctors often recommend that patients start with home remedies to allow the symptoms to resolve on their own.

Home remedy recommendations include nasal irrigation to cleanse the sinuses and manage congestion, using a humidifier, over-the-counter decongestants (for a maximum of 3 days), or applying a warm compress over the sinuses to manage pain and promote drainage.

When the symptoms of a sinus headache last for longer than a week or the symptoms continue to worsen, then it might be time to talk to an ENT about sinus treatments.

Medical treatments for a sinus headache can include prescriptions, such as decongestants, antihistamines, steroids, and/or mucolytics. The ENT’s goal is to identify and treat the underlying cause. For example, reducing the allergy symptoms will often clear up the sinus headache symptoms if you have seasonal allergies.

Chronic Sinus Headaches

Sometimes, sinus headaches are a recurring condition, with repetitive flareups happening several times a year. In this situation, it’s important to talk to an ENT specialist to identify the underlying reason why the sinuses are inflamed and congested.

Structural issues, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, can increase the likelihood of sinus infections. In-office treatments can be helpful to correct these underlying issues, such as balloon sinuplasty.

You can take pain medication for immediate relief of a sinus headache. But true results can’t be achieved without addressing the underlying issues. So, fixing a deviated septum or removing nasal polyps reduces the risk of sinus infections, decreasing the likelihood of sinus headaches in the future.

Is It Possible to Have a Sinus Headache without Congestion?

If you aren’t experiencing sinus congestion with your headache symptoms, it’s unlikely that you have a sinus headache. Without congestion, the pain in your face and head area is likely caused by either a tension headache or a migraine.

Also, notice how your symptoms change depending on the position of your head. When you lay down or lean forward to pick something up, do you experience an increase in pressure and pain? This is because nasal congestion makes the pressure feel stronger when you are leaning down.

Talk to an ENT for Sinus Headache Relief

You don’t need to live with sinus headaches. If you are experiencing these symptoms, then it is time to talk to an upper respiratory specialist at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat.

We serve patients in the Collin County and Dallas areas, with nearby offices located in Frisco and Plano, TX. Fill out our online form for an appointment request, or call our office at (972) 596-4005.

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