Sinus headache refers to head and facial pain associated with congestion, inflammation, or infection of the sinuses (sinusitis). The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull that have openings into the nose. Colds and allergies cause congestion and inflammation of the nasal passages and can lead to sinusitis. Sinus headache is a symptom of sinusitis.
Sinus Headache: Areas of Pain
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Allergies and viral upper respiratory infections increase nasal secretions and cause tissue lining the nasal passages to swell. This results in nasal congestion and stuffiness. The opening into the sinuses become blocked and normal drainage cannot occur. Secretions that are trapped in the sinuses build up and may become infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissue, mucous build-up, or infection may create pain and pressure.
Factors that may increase your chance of a sinus headache include:
A sinus headache may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Imaging tests may include:
Sinus headache treatment aims to:
Treatment may include:
Medications may include:
Surgery is usually not required. People with a structural abnormality or chronic sinusitis that do not respond to medications may benefit from surgery. The doctor may perform one of several procedures to enlarge the opening to your sinuses or clean out your sinus cavities.
To help reduce your chance of a sinus headache:
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Allergy Asthma Information Association
Calgary Allergy Network
Cady RK, Dodick DW, Levine HL, et al. Sinus headache: a neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2005;80(7):908-816.
Dambro M, Griffith J. Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2006.
Goetz CG, Pappert EJ. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co; 1999.
Goroll AH, Mulley AG. Primary Care Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2000.
Hainer BL, Matheson EM. Approach to acute headache in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(10):682-687.
Headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 24, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Sinus headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/sinus-headache. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Sinus headaches. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1410. Accessed July 29, 2014.
Sinus problems. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=18&cont=240. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2015 by David Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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