Symptoms A-Z

7 Sinus Pain Causes, Symptoms & Remedies to Relieve Sinus Pain

Understand your sinus pain symptoms with Buoy, including 5 causes and treatment options concerning your sinus pain.

This symptom can also be referred to as: pain behind the cheekbones

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Sinus Pain Symptoms

Sinus pain is an uncomfortable, aching sensation around your nose, ears, and sometimes eyes. The pain and pressure will likely cause you to lose focus and ruin productivity until you find relief. The sinuses are pockets of air behind your nose, cheekbones, eyes, and forehead that produce mucus to protect the body from outside germs and bacteria. Mucus traps foreign substances and prevents them from entering the body. However, when too much mucus is produced, the openings of the sinuses become blocked and pain often results.

Common accompanying symptoms of sinus pain

Sinus pain is either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) if it lasts for more than 12 weeks despite adequate treatment [1]. Symptoms associated with acute and chronic sinus pain can be similar and include the following.

The severity of these symptoms is often worse if you develop chronic sinus pain. You can also experience a reduced sense of smell or taste, and pain in other parts of the body, such as the jaw. Acute and chronic sinus pain have different treatments, so you should see a physician for appropriate care [2,3].

Sinus Pain Causes

Any condition that results in inflammation, swelling, or obstruction of the sinuses can result in sinus pain symptoms.

Inflammatory causes

Inflammation of the sinuses may be due to the following.

  • Infection (sinusitis): When the respiratory tract (mouth, nose, throat, and lungs) becomes infected, the resulting inflammation in the sinuses blocks the drainage of mucus. This blockage results in congestion, thick discharge, and significant swelling that results in sinus pain. Infections of the sinuses and respiratory tract can be bacterial, viral, or fungal in origin.
  • Allergy (rhinitis): Pollen, hay, and other allergens that circulate in the air can irritate the sinus tract and cause swelling and pain, especially during springtime. People with sinus pain from allergic rhinitis often also experience sinus pain along with redness or itchiness of the eyes. People with severe allergies often experience chronic sinus pain symptoms that are difficult to treat.

Obstruction-related causes

Obstructions of the sinuses may result in pain.

  • Structural: Structural abnormalities, such as a deviated septum or narrow nasal passage(s), can result in swelling and obstruction of the nasal passages [4]. This obstruction can result in chronic sinus pain.
  • Tissue: The nose can become lined with soft, painless noncancerous growths called nasal polyps. The exact reason for these growths is unclear, but nasal polyps can cause swelling of the nasal cavity and lead to blockage and congestion that can spread to the sinuses.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes of sinus pain are related to lifestyle habits or certain events.

  • Pollutants: Cigarette smoke and other contaminants can trigger inflammation or allergic reactions.
  • Medical conditions: Cystic fibrosis and immune system disorders, such as HIV, can cause chronic nasal blockage and swelling that leads to debilitating sinus pain and tenderness [5].

5 Possible Sinus Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced sinus pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acute viral sinusitis

Acute viral sinusitis, also called viral rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," occurs when viruses take hold and multiply in the sinus cavities of the face.

It is most often caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and spreads the same way, through an infected person's coughing or sneezing.

Because children have small, underdeveloped sinuses, this illness is far more common in adults.

Symptoms include clear nasal discharge (not greenish or yellowish,) fever, and pain if facial sinuses are pressed.

If there is rash, severe fatigue, or neurologic symptoms (seizures, loss of sensation, weakness, or partial paralysis,) see a medical provider to rule out more serious conditions.

Diagnosis can usually be made through history and examination alone.

Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness. Therefore, treatment consists of rest, fluids, and fever/pain reducers such as ibuprofen. (Do not give aspirin to children.) Symptoms of viral sinusitis last for about seven to ten days. As with the common cold, the best prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion

Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis: being severely ill

Urgency: Self-treatment

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.

Symptoms include fever; thick nasal discharge which may be clear, white, greenish or yellowish; some loss of sense of smell; foul-smelling breath; and pain, congestion, and pressure over the sinus areas of the face, especially if bending forward or lying down.

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.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes CT scan or MRI of the head to look for changes in the sinuses.

A true sinus headache, if caused by a bacterial infection, will be treated with antibiotics. If caused by a viral infection, the symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and alternating hot and cold compresses.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, headache that worsens when head moves, facial fullness or pressure, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, sinus pain

Symptoms that always occur with sinus headache: headache

Symptoms that never occur with sinus headache: fever, being severely ill, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes

Urgency: Self-treatment

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Acute bacterial sinusitis

Acute bacterial sinusitis, also called bacterial rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," has symptoms much like viral rhinosinusitis but a different treatment.

Any sinusitis usually begins with common cold viruses. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection takes hold. Like cold viruses, these bacteria can be inhaled after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone with viral sinusitis, upper-respiratory allergy, nasal passage abnormality, lung illness, or a weakened immune system is more prone to bacterial sinusitis.

Symptoms include thick yellowish or greenish nasal discharge; one-sided pain in the upper jaw or teeth; one-sided sinus pain and pressure; fatigue; fever; and symptoms that get worse after first improving.

See a doctor right away for severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, or vision changes. These can indicate a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made with a simple examination in the doctor's office.

Bacterial sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, but this is not always necessary. Often rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants are enough.

Prevention is done through good lifestyle and hygiene to keep the immune system strong.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches

Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: clear runny nose, being severely ill

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic sinusitis

Chronic sinusitis is also called chronic rhinosinusitis. It is an inflammation of the sinuses, or open spaces of the skull, above and below the eyes. "Chronic," in this case, means the condition has persisted for weeks in spite of treatment and has probably followed several cases of acute sinusitis.

The condition may start with a viral, bacterial, or fungal upper respiratory tract infection; asthma; allergies; or nasal polyps.

Symptoms include facial pain, swelling, and nasal congestion. There is often fatigue; greenish or yellowish nasal discharge; loss of sense of smell; ear pain; cough; and sore throat.

Chronic sinusitis should be seen by a medical provider, especially if symptoms worsen. The condition interferes with quality of life and the ongoing infection can become serious.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; sinus cultures; skin tests for allergies; CT scan of the head; and nasal endoscopy (rhinoscopy.)

Treatment may involve saline nasal irrigation; nasal spray corticosteroids; oral corticosteroids; antibiotics for bacterial infection; immunotherapy for allergies; and, in some cases, surgery to remove polyps or other obstructions.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping, congestion, runny nose

Symptoms that always occur with chronic sinusitis: chronic sinusitis symptoms

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Sinus Pain Treatments and Relief

Prevention

Acute sinus pain is preventable by making simple lifestyle changes and taking measures such as the following.

  • Practice good hygiene: You can limit your chance of contracting upper respiratory infections by washing your hands frequently with soap and water. You should also minimize contact with people you know to be sick.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke: Try to limit exposure to smoke and other pollutants.

At-home treatments

If you have been experiencing sinus pain symptoms for a few days, try the following remedies to help relieve your symptoms.

  • Drink fluids: Drink water or juice to stay hydrated and allow your mucus to thin and drain properly. You should try to avoid caffeine or alcohol as these fluids can be dehydrating and worsen swelling in the nose.
  • Moisturize the sinuses: Breathing in warm, moist air can also facilitate mucus drainage and ease the pain.
  • Rinse out the nasal passages: You can purchase special nasal rinses or make your own that can help rid your nasal passages of trapped mucus.
  • Keep the head elevated during sleep: This allows the sinuses to drain properly and reduces congestion.
  • Apply a warm compress: Putting a warm towel or heating pad on the nose or cheek area can help directly reduce the swelling and pain you are experiencing.

When to see a doctor

If at-home treatments do not provide relief and your sinus pain worsens or persists, you should consult your physician. If your sinus pain symptoms are due to a viral infection, your physician will suggest supportive measures as outlined above, but if your symptoms are the result of other causes, your doctor may suggest:

  • Antibiotics: If a bacterial infection is the cause of your sinus pain, your physician will prescribe the proper antibiotics to eliminate the underlying cause and reduce sinus inflammation.
  • Surgery: If you have structural problems with your nasal passages, your physician may suggest surgery to correct the underlying issue.
  • Immune medications: Therapies that reduce the body's reaction to specific allergens can reduce inflammation and decrease the number of sinus flare-ups.

FAQs About Sinus Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about sinus pain.

Can a sinus infection cause a toothache?

Yes, a sinus infection can cause pain in the mouth and an ache in the teeth. A toothache can usually be pinpointed to a particular part of the mouth or a single tooth. Sinus infections may cause general or regional pain in the mouth from compression of a nerve, but does not cause pain that can be pinpointed to a particular region.

What happens if you let a sinus infection go untreated?

If a sinus infection remains untreated it will often self-resolve. Most sinus infections are viral and usually resolve; however, this may take up to 10 days. Symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications or consumption of hot liquids. Bacterial infections, in most cases, do not self-resolve and are usually identified by particularly severe symptoms and pus emanating from the nose. Fungal infections can also be dangerous and should be attended to as a medical emergency.

Can you feel tired with a sinus infection?

Yes. A sinus infection is often concurrent with or caused by a viral infection. Viral infections can cause fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle or body aches. Nasal congestion can also cause a feeling of fatigue and poor concentration as the pain and pressure can be distracting.

How long does it take for a viral sinus infection to go away?

Viral sinus infections usually last seven to 10 days in healthy individuals. They can, however, coincide with a bacterial infection that extends and worsens the infection. Over-the-counter medications do not usually shorten the length of the infection, but they can increase the quality of sleep which can speed up recovery.

Why do my ears hurt when I have a sinus infection?

A sinus infection involves blockage of the tubes through which mucus drains from the skull, causing a buildup in the empty spaces — sinuses — of the head. Additionally, the swelling of mucous membranes in the oropharynx (the mouth and throat) can block the eustachian tubes from draining, and cause a buildup of pressure in the ears, causing ear pain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sinus Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Do you have a runny nose?
  • Do you have a stuffy nose?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your sinus pain

Sinus Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced sinus pain have also experienced:

  • 7% Headache
  • 5% Facial Fullness Or Pressure
  • 4% Congestion

People who have experienced sinus pain were most often matched with:

  • 66% Acute Bacterial Sinusitis
  • 16% Acute Viral Sinusitis
  • 16% Sinus Headache

People who have experienced sinus pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 38% Less than a week
  • 37% Less than a day
  • 12% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Sinus Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your sinus pain

References

  1. Worrall G. Acute sinusitis. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(5):565-7. NCBI Link.
  2. What to do about sinusitis. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Updated April 2, 2018. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  3. Rudmik L, Soler ZM. Adult chronic sinusitis. JAMA Network. 2015;314(9):964. JAMA Network Link.
  4. Deviated septum. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link.
  5. Managing treatments: Sinus problems. Johns Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center. HopkinsCF Link.

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.