Is It a Sinus Headache or a Migraine?

Written by Lorene Alba | March 3, 2023

Have you ever had a sinus infection and then got a migraine attack? If so, you’re not alone in this. In fact, pain caused by the sinuses and migraine attacks can have very similar symptoms, so much so that it can be hard to know which type of pain you are experiencing. However, identifying the type of pain you have is the first step in developing a successful treatment plan.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, studies show that about 90% of self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually migraine. Why? It is common for migraine to go undiagnosed and undertreated, and without a formal diagnosis, people assume their headaches are simply sinus headaches.

What Causes a Sinus Headache?

The sinuses are the hollow spaces in the bones around the nose. When these spaces become swollen it is called sinusitis. This swelling can be caused by allergies or bacterial or viral infections. Common symptoms of sinusitis are nasal congestion, a runny nose, facial pain or pressure, and a painful sinus headache. A sinus headache is called rhinosinusitis.

Is it a Migraine Attack or a Sinus Headache?

Sinus headache symptoms often include a deep, constant pain in the front of the face, around the eyes, temples, and forehead. The pain can be dull or sharp. Under the eyes and around the cheekbones usually feels tender to the touch. A sinus headache will be accompanied by sinusitis symptoms such as nasal congestion. During a sinus infection, you may lose your sense of smell and have a fever. Seek treatment from your doctor if you have signs of a sinus infection that do not resolve quickly.

Both migraine attacks and sinus headache symptoms can include watery eyes, congestion, fatigue, and pain and pressure when leaning forward.

Common Triggers

Migraine attacks and sinus headaches have a few triggers in common, such as exposure to strong scents (perfume, cologne, scented candles), pollution, cold dry weather, and cigarette smoke.

Additionally, the swelling caused by sinusitis can trigger a migraine attack. Additionally, migraine patients are more likely to develop sinusitis because they are hypersensitive to pain, have comorbid immune conditions, and use steroids to treat persistent migraine attacks.

Treatment Options

Treatment for sinus congestion and pain includes over-the-counter or prescription medicines that reduce swelling and pain. Decongestants and antihistamines can ease nasal congestion. Nasal corticosteroids may be used to control allergies, and nasal rinses can help clear nasal passages. An antibiotic will only be prescribed if you have a bacterial infection.

Placing a warm compress across your forehead and cheekbones may help. Drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a sinus infection. This will help thin out and drain the mucus in your sinuses. For some, breathing in steam or moist air is helpful. Take a hot shower, or hold your face over a bowl of hot water and inhale, use a humidifier, and as always, take all medications as directed.

If the above treatments do not provide relief, talk with your doctor. It is possible that your sinus headaches are actually migraine attacks, or that you have both conditions and need an updated treatment plan. Are you looking for a headache specialist? Our easy-to-use locator can help you find a headache specialist near you.

Let Us Know!

Are you experiencing symptoms of sinusitis and sinus headaches? Are you wondering if your sinus headaches are actually migraine attacks? Do you see a pain specialist or ENT? How do you manage these conditions?

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