6 Easy Tips for Sinus Headache Relief
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-intense 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 go to your medicine cabinet for painkillers, first examine your symptoms more closely. 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 because of 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.
The term "sinus headache" doesn't always mean there is a problem with the sinuses. Rather, it is a term used to describe symptoms in this region of the body[*].
What are the symptoms of a sinus headache?
While it's easy to connect facial pain to your sinus symptoms, the 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[*]. In this case, using nasal sprays without a diagnosis may not help with sinus headache symptoms.
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 sinus headache 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 device like a humidifier or inhaling steam can add moisture to the air and help with irritated 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. Peppermint oil, when inhaled, 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 solution to reduce sinus inflammation. Nasal irrigation devices — neti pot, nasal rinse bottle, or nasal nebulizer can help relieve the discomfort of a stuffy nose.
- Try nasal drainage massage. Experts have differing opinions 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?
While commonly linked to sinus headache, nasal congestion is not always present. 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 and migraine share many common symptoms; how can you tell which is which? If you've previously experienced sinus infections, you may want to look for other signs of sinusitis as well:
- 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:
- 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. A general physician, Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, or a neurologist should assess chronic symptoms.
When is sinus pressure serious?
Pay close attention to any symptom that affects your quality of life. These can include excessive pain, swelling, fever, nausea or disorientation. Make note of the 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.
Is a sinus disorder behind your symptoms? 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.