A sinus headache usually occurs as a result of sinusitis, an infection causing the swelling and inflammation of the membranes that line the sinuses. These types of headaches though, are often confused with migraines or tension headaches. Changes in pressure are what ultimately initiates the sinus aggravation and if untreated the headache is what follows.
The sinus headache could have one or several triggers, including colds; allergies to mold, dust or pollen; bacterial or fungal infections; problems with the immune system; or structural problems of the nasal cavity. People who suffer with asthma, have nasal growths or polyps, or have a disorder that affects the way mucus moves within the respiratory system, such as cystic fibrosis, may be at higher risk to experience sinus headaches.
There are two types of sinusitis, chronic and acute. Chronic sinusitis affects nearly 30 to 40 million Americans every year. It starts with the swelling of the mucous membranes in your sinuses and causes fluid to build up. This eventually plugs the cavity and stops normal mucus drainage. Acute sinusitis is the most common case and is usually cleared up in less than four weeks. If the condition recurs or lasts at least 12 consecutive weeks, the case is then chronic.
Headaches associated with sinusitis usually have very distinctive signs and symptoms. The most common is pain and pressure across the forehead and cheeks and around the eyes. Nasal stuffiness and sometimes an achy feeling in the upper teeth also accompany this. Other symptoms include sore throat (which can be the result of a tonsil infection brought on by the dripping of infected mucus down the throat), fever and chills, facial swelling, yellow or green discharge, and fatigue. In most cases, the symptoms often appear as soon as you awaken and the pain may worsen if you lean forward or lie flat. This is a factor that often confuses the sinus headache with a migraine. Migraines may also be accompanied by some nasal symptoms like congestion, facial pressure and a watery, nasal discharge. Migraines though, will have throbbing pain and you will also experience sensitivity to light or sound.
The key to treating sinus headaches is to reduce the swelling and inflammation of the sinuses. You also want to facilitate backed-up mucous drainage. For acute cases, there are steps that could be executed at home to provide relief:
• Breathing moist air, whether through a humidifier, steam vaporizer or just a hot shower. This begins loosening the backed-up mucous for nasal drainage.
• Alternating between a hot and cold compress. The hot compress should be applied for three minutes at a time and the cold compress for thirty seconds. This should be done 2-6 times a day.
• Nasal irrigation through rinses and spray which help to shrink sinus membranes and increase drainage.
• Over-the-counter medications with a primary ingredient of aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen or a combination of any decongestants and antihistamines may also provide relief. In difficult cases, nasal steroid sprays can be used.
• Alternative medicine in the form of herbal treatments, such as the magnolia flower, angelica, mint, and chrysanthemum. These treatments though, have not been scientifically confirmed.
In more severe, chronic cases of sinus headache, medically treatment may be needed. A CT scan may be administered to determine the extent of blockage, as well as an allergy test and desensitization. Antibiotics may be prescribed, but if they fail to provide any relief, an endoscopic or image-guided surgery may be necessary.
Although some people are naturally at risk for experiencing a form of sinusitis, there are some preventive measures to keep cases from becoming chronic, good hygiene being one of the most effective. Other actions include carefully managing allergies and preventing asthma attacks, treating cold symptoms immediately, using a humidifier to keep nasal passages clear, and avoiding cigarette smoke.