What are the sinuses?

Sinuses are air-filled cavities (spaces) located in your forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of your nose (see illustration). The sinuses produce a thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose.

When a sinus becomes inflamed, usually as the result of an allergic reaction, an infection, or a tumor, the inflammation prevents the mucus from draining. This causes a pain similar to that of a headache.

What are the symptoms of sinus headaches?

Sinus headaches can cause a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually gets worse with sudden head movement or straining, and with other sinus symptoms such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

Your doctor needs to determine whether the symptoms of headache are actually a sinus problem. If your headache is truly caused by a sinus blockage, such as an infection, you will likely have a fever. Your doctor may order a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with a physical exam, to see if there is a blockage in your sinuses.

Do allergies cause headaches?

It is a misconception that allergies cause headaches. However, allergies can cause sinus congestion, which can lead to headache pain. If you have allergies, the treatment for your allergy will not relieve your headache pain. The two conditions generally must be treated separately.

Do migraine headaches cause sinus pain?

Migraine headaches are associated with nasal congestion and discharge as one of the symptoms — the headache is not necessarily caused by the congestion, but is associated with it. Studies show that more than 95% of headaches that patients or doctors label as “sinus headaches” are actually migraines with associated nasal congestion. The use of decongestants or antibiotics is not needed and may actually make the condition worse.