How can you tell if you have a sinus headache?

Men who hug and take care of women who suffer from a sinus headache


A sinus headache is an uncommon type of a headache that is caused by an inflammation of the sinuses. It is usually felt as a dull and throbbing pain in the sinus area and on the upper part and front of the face. The symptoms of a sinus headache are similar to that of a migraine that’s why a migraine is often misdiagnosed as a sinus headache. 90% of the time, A sinus headache that is self-diagnosed is nearly always migraine.

A ‘true’ a sinus headache is almost always brought about by a sinus infection that can be bacterial or viral. Sinus infections are called sinusitis or rhinosinusitis. Sinus infections take place when the inflammation of the sinus occurs. Sinusitis can be caused by an allergy, an infection, colds, or air pollution but most cases are a result of a viral infection. Infections are usually spread through sneezing, coughing, kissing, contact with contaminated food, water, or surfaces, or contact with infected pets or animals.

When there is an inflammation of the linings of the nose and tubes or linings of the ducts connecting the sinuses to the back of the nose, the sinuses may have difficulty in draining and pressure can build up in the blocked sinus. There can also be an inflammation and swelling of the lining of the sinuses which may lead to an increased fluid secretion and mucus. The difficulty in draining combined with the increase in fluid increases pressure within the sinus cavity. This increased pressure brings about a sinus headache.

Causes of a Sinus Headache

A viral infection causes a sinus inflammation also called sinusitis. Sinusitis can cause swelling and inflammation in the nose. The inability of sinuses to drain and the inflammation can also be caused by an allergic reaction like hay fever. The inflammation leads to increased production of fluids and swelling. The decrease in drainage and the in the inflammatory fluid production causes the pressure and pain of a sinus headache.

After some time, an infection can result from viruses and bacteria that may travel from the nasal cavities into the stagnant fluid found within the sinus cavity. Viruses cause most cases of sinus infection. If the symptoms of sinus infection have been present for more or less a week but did not get worse, the sinus infection is most probably caused by viruses. Bacterial infection usually follows the initial period of inflammation caused by a viral infection or another sinus blockage. Fungal infections, although not so common, may also cause sinus infections. Tumors can also enter the sinus but this is a rare occurrence.

The maxillary sinus is located underneath the eye within the cheekbone. The upper portion of the teeth is attached to the lower portion of the maxillary sinus that’s why dental infections can transport up the root of the tooth and directly infect the sinus.

An infection in the upper airways and lining of the nose can spread to the sinuses and cause an inflammation or swelling. The small opening from the sinuses to the nose can be blocked which leads to a build-up of pressure inside the sinuses. The pressure builds up to an extent that it causes pain. This pain is a sinus headache.

Symptoms of a Sinus Headache

The symptoms of a sinus headache can be similar to that of a migraine that’s why 9 out of 10 people who think they have a sinus headache are actually suffering from a migraine. These are the following symptoms of a sinus headache that are also similar to migraine:

  • Pain in the head, usually in the forehead
  • Pain when moving
  • Teary eyes
  • Sinus pressure
  • A runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Facial pain
  • Pulsating pain
  • Pain in the head triggered by changes in the weather
  • Puffy eyelid

These are the symptoms of a sinus headache that differentiate a sinus headache from a migraine:

  • Constant throbbing pain that can be felt on the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes
  • The pain is an increasing pressure sensation overlying the blocked sinus
  • Pain is worst in the morning but can get better in the afternoon
  • Pain gets worse when moving the head, when bending down, and when experiencing extreme changes in temperature
  • Pain can spread to the upper jaw, teeth, and other parts of the head but not on the neck
  • Persistent discolored nasal discharge that’s either greenish or yellowish
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • Facial tenderness and swelling
  • Pressure on the face
  • Earache
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes


A sinus headache is a harmless condition. Nevertheless, it’s essential to determine what is causing it. This is important in determining the kind of treatment that should be given to cure your condition and alleviate the pain that you are feeling. Do not self-diagnose and buy over the counter medicines if you suspect that you have a sinus headache. More often than not, you might be having a migraine and you are buying the wrong medicines which will not be able to treat your condition anyway. Take note of the symptoms that you are feeling and check for signs of sinus infection such as fever or a green or yellow nasal discharge. If your fever persists, you have difficulty in breathing, and there is a rattling in your chest, it’s best to see a doctor to have proper diagnosis and treatment.