How to relieve a sinus headache

How to relieve a sinus headache

How to relieve a sinus headache

From nasal congestion and a reduced sense of smell to a sore throat and high temperature, there are a range of common symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from a cold, the flu or a sinus infection[1]. While many of these symptoms can be treated relatively easily using products such as lozenges, throat sprays and nasal decongestants, sinus headaches can be more tricky to relieve. 

In this blog, we look at what a sinus headache actually is, what it feels like and, most importantly of all, what are the best methods of treating this unpleasant symptom.

What is a sinus headache?

As the name suggests, sinus headaches occur as a result of infected or inflamed areas of your sinuses. Anything from catching a cold or the flu to dealing with day-to-day allergies can increase your risk of sinus infections (sinusitis), and therefore sinus headaches[1]. Sinus headaches themselves are caused by simple obstructions (usually inflammation) of normal sinus drainage. This blockage enables mucus to build up and become trapped inside your sinuses, over time becoming the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to sinusitis.

Commonly confused with migraines, sinus headaches typically present with pain or a feeling of pressure and fullness in and around your cheeks, nasal area, brow or forehead. These unpleasant headaches also typically feel worse when you bend forwards or lie down, and are commonly partnered with an achy feeling in your upper jaw and/or teeth, and a blocked nose.

Although the symptoms of sinus headaches and migraines often overlap, it’s important to note that symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, as well as noise and light sensitivity, are all exclusive to migraines[2]. With this in mind, if you suspect you are experiencing sinus headaches but are also suffering with additional symptoms, it is important to visit your doctor. 

What does a sinus headache feel like?

Similar to a migraine, an individual presenting with a sinus headache will typically complain of an almost constant dull pain, ache or feeling of pressure behind the cheekbones and bridge of the nose, and over the forehead and brow areas of the face. As mentioned above, a sinus headache is also usually characterised by a sensation that the pressure is building when you bend or lie down.

Interestingly, unlike migraines and regular headaches which can strike at any time of the day, sinus headaches tend to feel worse in the morning when you first wake up and improve gradually during the day. The pain experienced with this type of headache is usually more painful when the weather outside is cold and damp, as well as when you are exposed to dry, cold air for a long period of time. 

How to treat a sinus headache

Although doctors will often advise that no treatment is needed for a sinus headache, as this kind of infection will typically resolve itself on its own, there are a number of things you can try to release the tension and relieve the pain. Ways to treat a sinus headache include: 

  • Over-the-counter painkillers – while not a solution that should be used for more than 10 consecutive days without consulting a doctor, non-prescription drugs such as ibuprofen, paracetamol or naproxen sodium can help to relieve the pain[3].
  • Nasal decongestants – designed to open your blocked sinus cavities, nasal decongestants can remove mucus build up, help you breathe more comfortably, and relieve sinus congestion headaches in the process[4].
  • Antihistamines – if you are sure that your sinusitis is caused by allergies, antihistamines can work to halt allergic reactions, reducing mucus in your sinuses and helping to alleviate sinus headaches[5]
  • Avoid irritants – it’s less of a treatment and more preventative advice, but trying to avoid key triggers that cause sinusitis and sinus headaches is sensible. Try to avoid cigarette smoke, areas with high pollen counts, certain chemicals, or any other substance that can cause you to develop a headache[5].
  • Nasal irrigation – flushing out your sinuses via your nasal cavity using salt water and a bulb syringe can help remove mucus from your nasal passages, reduce pressure and relieve painful sinus headaches.

If you have been experiencing sinus headaches for over 10 days, you should visit your doctor. Your headache may be as a result of another illness, or you may be encouraged to consider prescription medication or even surgery to treat your symptoms.