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Sinus trouble can be a real headache

A man with a sinus headache pinches his nose

Another headache? Maybe the problem is in your sinuses.

Every part of your head hurts.

Your cheekbones are sore. Your nose is runny. Your eyes ache. Even your teeth are painful.

But it’s the unrelenting headache that’s really ruining your day—and not for the first time, either.

Maybe you should ask your doctor about your sinuses.

Sinuses and headaches

Sinuses are hollow air spaces or cavities, and you have four groups of them in your head: in each cheekbone, behind the eyes, behind the bridge of your nose and in your forehead.

These holes in your head have a purpose—to warm, moisten and filter air. They also serve as a space for excess mucus to drain.

But a number of things can throw a kink in the system, obstructing the flow of air and mucus, narrowing sinus passages, and causing inflammation and discomfort. The inflammation is called sinusitis, and the discomfort often includes a headache.

Allergies are a common culprit. If you have hay fever, you’re likely familiar with the head pain of sinusitis, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI). Sinus headaches and asthma often travel in tandem, as well.

Is your headache from sinusitis?

Differentiating sinus pain from other types of headaches isn’t always easy.

Symptoms of sinusitis can vary, according to the AAAAI, and some symptoms don’t belong to sinus headache alone, notes the National Headache Foundation. Pressure around the sinuses, for example, can signal other types of headaches, such as migraines.

With those caveats in mind, symptoms of sinus headaches can include one or more of the following:

  • Profuse, thick and colored nasal discharge.
  • Nasal drip down the back of the throat.
  • Congestion.
  • A feeling of facial swelling or fullness.
  • Fever.
  • Dull, aching pain in the face.


Only a thorough examination by your doctor can determine whether your headaches are related to sinusitis.

He or she might even use x-rays to look for sinus blockage.

If you have sinusitis, medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and corticosteroid nasal sprays can help. Antibiotics might be prescribed if your doctor suspects an underlying infection.

Steam also can help relieve sinus pressure. You might try standing in a hot shower or holding a warm, moist compress over your face to ease symptoms.

Reviewed 5/1/2023

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