Sinus headache refers to head and facial pain associated with congestion, inflammation, or infection of the sinuses (sinusitis). The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull that have openings into the nose.
cause congestion and inflammation of the nasal passages and can lead to sinusitis. Sinus headache is a symptom of sinusitis.
Allergies and viral upper respiratory infections increase nasal secretions and cause tissue lining the nasal passages to swell. This results in nasal congestion and stuffiness. The opening into the sinuses become blocked and normal drainage cannot occur. Secretions that are trapped in the sinuses build up and may become infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissue, mucous build-up, or infection may create pain and pressure.
Factors that may increase your chance of a sinus headache include:
Nasal endoscopy—to look inside your nose and possibly take samples of drainage to be tested
Sinus headache treatment aims to:
Open the nasal passages
Treat any infection
Allow sinus cavities to drain
Treatment may include:
Medicines may include:
Antihistamines to treat nasal allergies
Decongestants to open clogged nasal passages, which allows the sinuses to drain
Steroid nasal spray to reduce inflammation
Antibiotics—only if a bacterial infection has developed
Self-care for a Headache
Breathe warm, moist air. Try inhaling steam.
Mist of saline nasal spray to moisten the nasal passages and help remove crusty secretions. A saline spray can be used up to 6 times per day.
Ask your doctor for directions on how to perform nasal irrigation that you can do at home.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Use warm or cool compresses on your face.
Do not smoke. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can
Avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air.
Surgery is usually not required. People with a structural abnormality or chronic sinusitis that do not respond to medications may benefit from surgery. The doctor may perform one of several procedures to enlarge the opening to your sinuses or clean out your sinus cavities.
To help reduce your chances of a sinus headache:
Avoid exposure to anything that
allergy or sinus symptoms.
Cady RK, Dodick DW, et al. Sinus headache: a neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2005;80(7):908-816.
Hainer BL, Matheson EM. Approach to acute headache in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(10):682-687.
Headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114773/Headache. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Sinus headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/sinus-headache. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Sinus headaches. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1410. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Sinusitis (sinus infection or sinus inflammation). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=18&cont=240. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 1/29/2021
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