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Sinus Headaches

Sinus Headache or Migraine?

sinus headaches

Many people with migraines go for years without being properly diagnosed because they continue their erroneous assumption they are experiencing merely a common sinus headache.  One study found that 97% of people who described their headaches as sinus headaches were actually experiencing symptoms associated with migraine headaches. 

The problem is symptoms of migraine headaches and sinus headaches often overlap, leading to confusion that can be very serious if your migraine goes undiagnosed.  One reason behind this confusion may lie in the fact the same nerves that carry migraine pain also travel to the sinuses.   Pain in the sinuses, face or around the eyes can be felt during a migraine on one or both sides of the head.   In addition, the nerves that cause stuffy or runny nose and watery eyes can also be activated during a migraine headache.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches usually result from a sinus infection or allergies, or else follow hard upon the heels of a cold or the flu.   The cause of sinus headaches are inflammation of the sinus passages, which are the air cavities located behind and above your nose.  The increased pressure that results from the closing of infection of the sinuses is what causes the headache. The pain involved with a sinus headache can be quite severe and last for an extended time.  Sinus headaches tend to start in the morning after waking up.

The usual treatment for sinus headaches is antibiotics, but physicians are beginning to question the validity of this approach because of the building up of resistance to the drug when taken repeatedly.   Common sinus headache symptoms include pain and pressure around the eyes, an ache in the upper teeth, fever or chills and swelling on the face.

Heat and ice can be used to relieve facial pain of sinus headaches with many doctors recommending hot compresses, hot drinks such as tea or broth, and even a steamy shower.  A cool-mist humidifier can also help in keeping your sinuses moist.

Migraine Headaches

So how do migraines differ from sinus headaches, and how do you determine which one you have.   To begin with, there isn’t just one migraine headache, but two.  Migraines with aura and migraines without aura.  Common migraine symptoms include pain that is prefaced by visual disturbances, a throbbing on just one side of the head that ranges from mild to extreme, nausea, vomiting, an increased sensitivity to both light and noise.

Migraines require a trigger to get your head to hurt.  These triggers are wide in scope and can very significantly from person to person.  Most migraines seem to be triggered by food.  The most common food triggers seem to be wine, chocolate, aged cheese, processed meats, Chinese food and caffeine.   Other triggers include flashing lights, loud noises, menstruation, intense exercise, weather changes, exposure to smoke or perfumes, lack of sleep, stress or sex.  In addition, some medications such as birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy have been proven migraine triggers.


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So what’s the big deal with misdiagnosing a migraine headache as a sinus headache?   Well, for one thing all that money you’re spending on medicine specifically marketed and it's not designed to treat sinus headaches and will not benefit you if you're suffering migraines.  In addition, if you're under the delusion that you are experiencing sinus headaches you may be unduly extending the life of your migraines by continuing to eat food triggers, or continuing to experience environmental triggers that you could otherwise avoid. 

Basically, treating a migraine headache as it were a sinus headache is really no different from treating a toothache as it were a sinus headache. The problems are completely different, regardless of how similar they may seem and how much they may have in common physiologically.  A sinus headache is a headache; a migraine is a disease that has as one of its symptoms excruciating head pain.  Do yourself a favor, if you're absolutely convinced you are suffering sinus headaches, go see a doctor who knows the difference.