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Sinus Headache

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Last updated November 1, 2021

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Get a thorough self-assessment before your visit to the doctor.

What is a sinus headache?

Sinus headache, also called sinusitis or rhinosinusitis, is caused by either a bacterial or a viral infection of the sinuses (open spaces) behind the eyes and nose. When compared to a normal headache, this pain is generally around the eyes, sinuses, and upper cheeks.

Sinus headaches are often mistaken for tension headaches but sinus headaches are usually triggered by allergies. A self-diagnosed "sinus headache" very often turns out to be a migraine headache with a few sinus symptoms. This requires very different treatment from an actual sinus headache, and is an important reason to see a medical provider about any sort of ongoing headaches.

Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Headache that worsens when head moves
  • Facial fullness or pressure
  • Mucus dripping in the back of the throat
  • Pain or pressure over the sinus areas of the face.
  • Fever
  • Thick nasal discharge, which may be clear, white, greenish or yellowish
  • Some loss of sense of smell
  • Bad breath

Treatment

You should see a doctor if you have a sinus headache, especially if the pain is intense, not getting better, or you have a fever. A doctor will diagnose you through a patient history, physical examination, and possible imaging tests to look for changes in the sinuses.

If your sinus headache is caused by a bacterial infection (sinusitis), you will be given a prescription for an antibiotic. If it’s caused by a viral infection, the symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and alternating hot and cold compresses.

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