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Sinus Headache

Definition

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. Colds and allergies cause congestion and inflammation of the nasal passages and can lead to sinusitis. Sinus headache is a symptom of sinusitis.
Sinus Headache: Areas of Pain
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Causes

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.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of a sinus headache include:

Symptoms

A sinus headache may cause:

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Imaging tests may include:

Treatment

Sinus headache treatment aims to:
Treatment may include:

Medications

Medications may include:
  • Pain relievers
  • 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

Self-care includes:
  • 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
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can quit.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air.

Surgery

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.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of a sinus headache:

RESOURCES

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery http://www.entnet.org

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America http://www.aafa.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Allergy Asthma Information Association http://aaia.ca

Calgary Allergy Network http://www.calgaryallergy.ca

References

Cady RK, Dodick DW, Levine HL, et al. Sinus headache: a neurology, otolaryngology, allergy, and primary care consensus on diagnosis and treatment. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2005;80(7):908-816.

Dambro M, Griffith J. Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2006.

Goetz CG, Pappert EJ. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Co; 1999.

Goroll AH, Mulley AG. Primary Care Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 2000.

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.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 24, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.

Sinus headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/sinus-headache. Accessed September 29, 2014.

Sinus headaches. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1410. Accessed July 29, 2014.

Sinus problems. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website. Available at: http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=18&cont=240. Accessed September 29, 2014.

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