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Laura Gesicki-Wood, MD
Managing the Pain of a Sinus Headaceh
Accredited Allergy Center of Springfield

Managing the Pain of a Sinus Headaceh

Not every headache is the consequence of sinus and nasal passage problems. For example, many people visit their doctor to seek treatment for a sinus headache and learn they actually have a migraine or tension headache. The confusion is common because a migraine can cause irritation of the trigeminal, or fifth, cranial nerve (with branches into the forehead, cheeks, and jaw). This may produce pain at the lower-end branches of the nerve, in or near the sinus cavity.
Symptoms of Sinusitis
Pain in the sinus area does not automatically mean you have a sinus disorder. On the other hand, sinus and nasal passages can become inflamed, leading to a headache. Headache is one of the key symptoms of people diagnosed with acute or chronic sinusitis.
In addition to a headache, people with sinusitis often complain of
Pain and pressure around the eyes and across the checks and forehead
An achy feeling in the upper teeth
Fever and chills
Facial swelling
Nasal stuffiness
Yellow or green discharge
What to do for a Sinus Headache
Sinus headaches are associated with a swelling of the membranes lining the sinuses (spaces adjacent to the nasal passages). Pain occurs in the affected region the result of air, pus, and mucus being trapped within the obstructed sinuses. The discomfort often occurs under the eyes and in the upper teeth (disguised as a headache or toothache). Sinus headaches tend to worsen as you bend forward or lie down. The key to relieving the symptoms is to reduce sinus swelling and inflammation and facilitate mucous drainage from the sinuses. There are several at-home steps you can take to help prevent sinus headache or alleviate its pain.
Breathe Moist Air
Relief can be achieved by humidifying a dry air environment. This can be done using a steam vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier, or steam from a hot shower.
Alternate Hot and Cold Compresses
Place a hot compress across your sinuses for three minutes, and then a cold compress for 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure three times per treatment, two to six times a day.
Over-the-Counter Medications
Some over-the-counter drugs are highly effective in reducing sinus headache pain. The primary ingredient in most OTC pain relievers is aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, or a combination of these. The best way to choose a pain reliever is by determining which of these ingredients works best for you.
Sinus pressure headaches caused by allergies are usually treated with decongestants and antihistamines. In difficult cases, nasal steroid sprays may be recommended.
If none of these preventative measures or treatments are effective, talk with your doctor about what treatment options are right for you. During the examination, a CT scan of the sinuses may be ordered to determine the extent of blockage caused by chronic sinusitis. Acute sinusitis is treated with antibiotics and decongestants. If antibiotics fail to relieve the chronic sinusitis and accompanying headaches, endosopic or image-guided surgery may be the recommended treatment. If no chronic sinusitis is found, treatment might then include allergy testing and desensitization (allergy shots).
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