Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are a symptom of sinus infections (sinusitis). A sinus headache may feel like a dull pain behind your eyes, in your cheekbones, forehead or bridge of your nose. Typically, sinus headaches go away once a sinus infection runs its course. But people should contact a healthcare provider if they have one that lasts more than a week.


What is a sinus headache?

A sinus headache is a symptom of sinus infections (sinusitis). Sinus headaches make your face hurt. You may feel a constant, dull ache behind the eyes or in your cheekbones, forehead and the bridge of your nose. The pain gets worse when you move your head suddenly or you bend over. Typically, sinus headaches go away once a sinus infection runs its course.


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes sinus headaches?

If you have a sinus headache, a viral or bacterial infection in your sinuses may be to blame. Sinuses are a series of connected hollow spaces behind your cheekbones, forehead and nose. Air that comes in through your nose travels through your sinuses on its way to your lungs.

Your sinuses are lined with tissue. They also make mucus that keeps your nose moist and traps intruders like bacteria, viruses, fungi and dust-carrying allergens.

Normally, free-flowing mucus carries off intruders before they can make trouble in your sinuses. But sometimes your sinuses’ reaction to intruders starts a chain reaction that leads to sinus headaches.

First, your sinuses start making more mucus. Mucus building up in your sinuses creates a place where intruders like bacteria and viruses can settle and grow. Growing intruders make sinus tissue swell, trapping mucus so it can’t flow from your sinuses. The result is swollen, irritated, fluid-filled sinuses that make your face feel achy and tender.

What are sinus headache risk factors?

Sinus headaches stem from sinus infections. Understanding sinus infection risk factors may reduce your risk of sinus headaches. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those risk factors include:

  • Having the common cold.
  • Seasonal allergies.
  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Structural issues within your sinuses. For example, nasal polyps or a deviated septum may trap mucus in your sinuses.
  • Having a weak immune system or taking drugs that weaken your immune system increases your risk of infections, including sinus infections.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are sinus headaches diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or ongoing, you may also need imaging tests like X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans.

Imaging tests show if your sinuses are blocked. If they aren’t, it may mean you have a different issue like a migraine or a tension headache. Migraine headaches and sinus headaches have common symptoms. Studies suggest 80% of people who thought they had sinus headaches had migraines.


Management and Treatment

What’s the treatment for sinus headaches?

Sinus headaches happen because you have a sinus infection. Healthcare providers may treat bacterial infections with antibiotics. Viral infections typically go away without treatment.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend other medications to ease discomfort, like:

Is there a way to get rid of my sinus headache instantly?

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for sinus headaches. You need treatment for the underlying cause to get rid of a sinus headache. But there are things you can do to ease sinus pressure and pain:

  • Apply a warm compress to painful areas of your face.
  • Use a decongestant to reduce sinus swelling and allow mucus to drain.
  • Try a saline nasal spray or drops to thin the mucus.
  • Use a vaporizer or inhale steam from a pan of boiled water. Warm, moist air may help relieve sinus congestion.



Can sinus headaches be prevented?

Preventing sinus infections is the best way to prevent sinus headaches. For example, many people have seasonal allergies that make spring a season of stuffy noses (nasal congestion) that may turn into a viral sinus infection. If that’s your situation, talk to an allergist. They’ll have recommendations and treatments to prevent or ease allergies that cause nasal congestion. Here are other suggestions for heading off sinus headaches:

  • Colds may lead to viral sinus infections. You can prevent colds by washing your hands or using hand sanitizers and staying away from people who have colds.
  • Nasal polyps may block your sinuses and cause sinus headaches. Treatments include steroid sprays and pills, stents and surgery to remove polyps.
  • A deviated septum may be why your sinuses are blocked. Septoplasty is surgery to repair your septum.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long do sinus headaches last?

That depends on what caused you to have sinusitis. For example, viruses cause most sinus infections. When the viral infection clears up, the sinus headache goes away. That may take a week or so. Sinus issues that don’t go away may mean you have a bacterial or fungal sinus infection that requires treatment like an antibiotic or antifungal.

Living With

When should I see a healthcare provider?

Most sinus headaches go away when sinus infections clear. Talk to a healthcare provider if your sinus issues don’t go away within a week or so.

What questions should I ask a healthcare provider?

You may want to ask the following questions:

  • Do I have a sinus headache or another kind of headache?
  • If I have sinusitis, do I have a viral infection or a bacterial infection?
  • What at-home treatments help sinus infections?

Additional Common Questions

How do I know if my headache is sinus-related?

There are several kinds of headaches that may make your head hurt in different ways. For example, people often confuse migraine headaches and sinus headaches because they both cause pain that pinpoints certain parts of your aching head. The difference is where pain happens:

  • Sinus headaches make your face hurt. The pain affects both sides of your head.
  • Migraine headaches typically cause pain high in your forehead, around your temples or in the back of your head. The pain typically affects one side of your head.
  • A sinus headache may feel like it’s lasting an eternity.

What’s the difference between sinusitis and a sinus headache?

The difference is that a sinus headache is just one symptom of sinusitis. If you have sinusitis, you may also have the following symptoms:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your head is throbbing. Your face hurts. And you don’t even want to think about moving your head or bending over. If this sounds familiar, you may have a sinus headache caused by a sinus infection. Most sinus infections and sinus headaches clear up within a week or 10 days. When they don’t, it’s time to contact a healthcare provider. You may have a bacterial or fungal sinus infection or a migraine. Either way, you’ll need special medication that treats infections or migraines. A healthcare provider will do tests to diagnose the issue. They’ll also recommend things you can do at home to ease your symptoms.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/12/2023.

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