• Sinus Headache

    Definition

    Sinus headache refers to head and facial pain associated with inflammation of the sinuses (called sinusitis). The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull that have openings into the nose. Colds and allergies cause inflammation of the nasal passages and can lead to sinusitis. Sinus headache is a symptom of sinusitis.
    Sinus Headache: Areas of Pain
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    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 nasal passages become blocked and normal drainage cannot occur. Secretions that are trapped in the sinuses may become infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissue or infection may create pain and pressure.

    Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for sinus headache include:
    • Allergies
    • Asthma
    • Persistent cold or upper respiratory infection
    • Ear infections
    • Nasal polyps
    • Tooth abscess or infection
    • Enlarged tonsils or adenoids
    • Nasal deformities, such as a deviated septum
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Problems with immunity
    • Prior sinus surgery
    • Facial injuries that block sinus passages
    • Traveling in an airplane if you have an upper respiratory infection
    • Swimming in dirty water

    Symptoms

    Symptoms of sinus headache may include:
    • Pain and tenderness behind the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes and ears
    • Pain in the upper teeth
    • Pain ranging from mild to severe
    • Pain that is more intense first thing in the morning
    • Pain that may worsen when you bend over
    • Headache occurring with other symptoms of sinusitis, including:
      • Nasal stuffiness and congestion
      • Thick nasal drainage
      • Postnasal drip
      • Fever
      • Fatigue
      • Stuffy ears
      • Sore throat
      • Cough
      • Puffiness around the eyes

    Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Your nasal secretions may be tested for allergies and infection.
    If you suffer from chronic sinusitis, tests may include:
    • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
    • Nasal endoscopy—uses a thin, lighted tube to look inside your nose and possibly take samples of drainage to be tested

    Treatment

    Sinus headache treatment aims to:
    • Open the nasal passages
    • Treat any infection
    • Allow sinus cavities to drain
    Treatment may include:

    Medications

    Medications may include:
    • Pain relievers
    • Decongestants to open clogged nasal passages, which allows the sinuses to drain—Do not use longer or more often than directed. Overuse of decongestant nose sprays may increase swelling and make your symptoms worse.
    • Steroid nose spray to reduce inflammation
    • Drugs that thin secretions
    • Antibiotics—only if a bacterial infection has developed

    Self-care during the Headache

    Self-care includes:
    • Breathe warm, moist air. Try inhaling steam.
    • Try a mist of saline nasal spray to moisten the nasal passages and help remove crusty secretions. A saline spray can be used up to six times per day.
    • Ask your doctor for directions on how to perform nasal irrigation that you can do at home.
    • Do not smoke. If you smoke, quit.
    • Avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air.

    Surgery

    Surgery is usually not required. Patients with a structural abnormality or chronic sinusitis that does not respond to medications may benefit from surgery. The doctor may perform one of several procedures to clean out your sinus cavities.
    If you are diagnosed with a sinus headache, follow your doctor's instructions.

    Prevention

    The following strategies may reduce the risk of getting a sinus headache:
    • Avoid exposure to anything that triggers allergy or sinus symptoms.
    • Seek medical treatment for allergies.
    • Wash your hands frequently to avoid colds.
    • Seek treatment for a persistent cold before sinusitis sets in.
    • Avoid alcoholic drinks. Alcohol can cause swelling of nasal and sinus tissues.
    • Check with your doctor about using a decongestant before air travel.

    RESOURCES

    American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery http://www.entnet.org

    Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America http://www.aafa.org

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Allergy Asthma Information Association http://aaia.ca

    Calgary Allergy Network http://www.calgaryallergy.ca

    References

    Cady RK, Dodick DW, et al. Sinus headache: a neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2005;80:908-816.

    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.

    National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org. Accessed July 9, 2009.

    Sinus headache. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/sinusHeadache.cfm. Accessed July 9, 2009.

    Sinus headaches. American Rhinologic Society website. Available at: http://www.american-rhinologic.org. Accessed July 9, 2009.

    Sinus problems. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.aafa.org. Updated 2005. Accessed July 9, 2009.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.