Sinus Headache Relief: 6 Easy Home Remedies

Woman pinching her nasal bridge between the eyes, looks distressed. Ways to relieve a sinus headache without pills. It's easy to mistake a migraine for a sinus headache and misuse medication. Take a look at some simple home remedies first.

6 Ways to Relieve a Sinus Headache Without Pills

Ask any sinusitis sufferer about their last sinus headache and they'll be able to describe the discomfort in stunning detail. Even discussing the often debilitating pain can be enough to make you reach for the medicine cabinet in preparation. But what if we told you headaches caused by sinus disorders aren't nearly as common as you think[*]?

Before you make a beeline for your stash of over-the-counter pain relievers, start by taking a closer look at your symptoms. Then, explore some easy home remedies to relieve your headache. If necessary, seek professional advice to ensure you're treating the root cause of this symptom.

What is a sinus headache?

The human sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull lined with soft, pink tissue called mucosa. This lining can become inflamed due to infection, environmental triggers or structural complications. Inflammation in the sinuses can create blockages that prevent mucus from flowing properly through the nasal cavity. This leads to a congested feeling that creates sinus pressure and pain similar to a headache.

It should be noted that the typical use of the term "sinus headache" does not imply the presence of a sinus disorder. Rather, it is a term used to describe symptoms in this region of the body[*].

What are the symptoms of a sinus headache?

It may seem simple to connect facial pain to your sinus symptoms, but according to the American Migraine Foundation, the vast majority of self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually migraine[*]. Either of these causes can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Pressure, pain or fullness around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead
  • Nasal congestion and/or runny nose
  • Watery eyes, tearing, and/or swelling in the eyelids
  • One or both sides of the face affected

Sufferers may also experience fever in addition to feeling pressure or pain around the sinuses. Fortunately, there are several home remedies to help relieve sinus pressure without pain pills or antibiotics. Let’s look at a few therapeutic alternatives.

How do I treat a sinus headache?

Regardless of the cause of your headache symptoms, fast pain relief is generally the goal. What may be labeled a "sinus headache" can be caused by sinus infection (sinusitis), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), or migraine with nasal symptoms[*]. Without a diagnosis, using your regular nasal decongestant sprays and nasal steroid sprays may be counterproductive to relieving symptoms of sinus headache.

Try these easy pain relieving remedies to treat sinus headache symptoms: Drink plenty of fluids, use a humidifier, apply a warm compress, inhale peppermint oil, rinse your sinuses, try facial massage.

If you're unsure of the root cause, you may want to try some simple pain relieving remedies first. Here are a few actions to take the next time you're looking for easy DIY pain relief:

  • Drink plenty of fluids: Proper hydration aids to thin out mucus and move it through sinus blockages to alleviate pressure.
  • Add moisture: Dry air exacerbates sinus inflammation; take extra care by humidifying your air. Using a humidifier, vaporizer, or inhaling steam from a pot of boiled water can add moisture to your air and soothe inflamed sinuses.
  • Place a warm wet towel or compress over painful areas: When applied locally, heat can be a powerful tool to relieve tension.
  • Apply peppermint oil to your forehead and temples: When inhaled, peppermint oil provides therapeutic benefits for migraine headache sufferers, reducing the intensity of pain similar to lidocaine[*].
  • Rinse your nasal cavity: The nasal passages are the first line of defense for your sinuses and respiratory system. Viruses, bacteria, and air pollutants can lead to sinus infection and other inflammatory responses. Ensure you’re keeping your nose clean with a simple nasal saline (salt water) solution. There are a number of tools you can use to administer this solution including a neti pot, nasal rinse bottle, or nasal nebulizer.
  • Nasal drainage massage: While the experts are divided on the benefits of this DIY sinus relief therapy, some suspect that manually changing the pressure around your sinuses could help to drain fluids blocked by inflammation[*].

Can I have a sinus headache without nasal congestion?

Although nasal congestion is commonly associated with sinus headache, it is not always present, as other conditions can contribute to this symptom. Other issues that may lead to inflammation, pain, and/or pressure in the sinuses include:

  • Deviated septum
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
  • Nasal polyps
  • Seasonal allergies

How do I know if my headache is sinus related?

Sinus headache vs. Migraine - how do I know if my headache is sinus related? Sinus headaches often come with symptoms of sinusitis like postnasal drip, thick, discolored nasal discharge and bad breath, whereas light sensitivity, weather changes, and dizziness may point to migraine.

Although pain may be located in the face and sinuses, many symptoms of sinus headache overlap with those of migraine. Wondering if your symptoms are caused by sinus infection or migraine? If you've previously experienced sinus infections, you may want to look for other signs of sinusitis as well:

  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty breathing through your nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Thick, discolored nasal discharge
  • Anosmia (loss of smell or taste)
  • Sore throat
  • Worsened pain from bending forward or lying down
  • Recent viral respiratory infection or cold
  • Lasting pain over days to weeks

On the other hand, there are signs that may point more clearly to migraine than sinusitis. These can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Triggered by changes in weather
  • Triggered by stress
  • Consistencies with menstrual cycle

Regardless of the root cause, you should not be experiencing sinus headaches everyday. This may be an indication of a chronic illness that should be assessed by a general physician, Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, or a neurologist.

When is sinus pressure serious?

No matter the symptom you're dealing with, excessive pain, swelling, fever, nausea or disorientation that affect your quality of life should always be taken seriously. Pay close attention to symptom frequency and duration as well; do your symptoms last or occur for more than 15 days a month? If so, consider reaching out to your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and targeted treatment plan.

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If your symptoms are caused by sinus disorder, progressive worsening of pressure, pain or swelling in the facial area could indicate a severe infection. Without proper treatment, this can become dangerous.

Migraine, on the other hand, is a neurological disease. To diagnose migraine, your provider may want to order a CT scan of your sinuses to check for sinus disease. They may then prescribe a migraine-specific medication as part of your treatment plan.

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