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Sinus Headache vs. Migraine

Can’t tell the difference between a sinus headache and a migraine? Well, according to the American Migraine Foundation, you aren’t the only one. A recent study found participants who self-diagnosed themselves with a “sinus headache” actually had a migraine instead. The symptoms between the two conditions are so similar that there’s no wonder why they are often mistaken for the other. So how can you tell the difference?

Symptoms to Look Out For

The symptoms of both conditions are fairly similar and include nasal congestion, facial pain, and pressure. With a sinus headache, the pain typically occurs above the eyes, over the bridge of your nose, and/or around the area of your cheeks. Your face may appear red, swollen, and feel tender to touch. Those who experience these symptoms will find them to worsen when bent over or coughing.

A migraine is a condition that comes often and repeatedly, with or without warning. The pain can be gradual or instant and range from moderate to severe. Location of pain varies from the front, top, or back of the head and can sometimes be felt down into the neck area. Those with a migraine have difficulty completing everyday tasks, feel nauseous, and experience sensitivity to light and noise. Typically, if you can relate to two out of the three symptoms listed above, you most likely have a migraine and not a sinus headache.

What Causes a Sinus Headache?

A sinus headache can be caused by nasal obstruction, infection, or allergies. Obstruction happens when mucus builds in sinus passageways. The inability of mucus to pass can lead to an infection. A sinus infection that originates from a bacteria or virus and affects sinus cavities is called Sinusitis. In this case, additional symptoms occur, such as a cough, sore throat, or fever. The last and most common reason a sinus headache can occur is in the presence of an allergen or contributing environmental factors. Pollen, dust or cigarette smoke can cause irritation and obstruction in the nasal cavity, also referred to as Rhinitis.

Treatment for sinus headaches starts with decongestants and pain relievers. These over-the-counter medicines help to ease sinus pressure and congestion. In most cases, a sinus headache is treatable with medicine and subsides in less than a week. Usually, if the over-the-counter medicine isn’t working doctors prescribe antibiotics and nasal steroids. If condition worsens, please consult with a rhinologist. An evaluation can help determine proper diagnosis, treatment, and future care. A sinus headache caused by infection should not be left untreated, the infection may need sinus surgery or can eventually spread into the brain leading to life- threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscess.

Knowing the difference is important. Treating a sinus headache like a migraine and vice versa, will not work in solving pain or discomfort. You may alleviate pain temporarily, but consulting with a doctor for the proper diagnosis is key to treatment. If you are unsure or feel you have a sinus headache please don’t hesitate to call Dr. Kuperan at Houston Advanced Nose and Sinus. The number is 713-791-0700.

We’re here to help

If you are frustrated by frequent sinus infections, persistent nasal congestion, or other sinus symptoms, Dr. Arjuna Kuperan and the team at Houston Advanced Nose & Sinus can help. Contact us today with any questions or to schedule your consultation.

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