What are sinuses?

Sinuses are a series of connected, hollow spaces behind your cheekbones, forehead and nose

(see illustration). The sinuses produce thin mucus. As air travels through the sinuses to your lungs, the mucus traps harmful particles like dust, pollutants and bacteria. The mucus drains out through your nose.

What is a sinus headache?

About 80% of the time, what people call a sinus headache is actually a migraine with nasal symptoms. A true sinus headache develops because of a sinus infection (sinusitis). The infection causes pain and pressure in the sinuses.

How common are sinus headaches?

Sinus headaches are very common with an infection. You can also feel like you have a sinus headache when you have migraines, which affect 12% of people.

What causes sinus headaches?

Sinus infections cause sinus headaches. Anything that makes mucus buildup in the sinuses can lead to a sinus infection, such as:

  • The common cold is most often to blame.
  • Seasonal allergies trigger mucus production.
  • Nasal polyps, abnormal growths in the nose or sinuses. Nasal polyps can block mucus from draining.
  • Deviated septum, which is when the line of cartilage and bone down the center of the nose isn’t straight. A deviated septum can prevent mucus from properly draining.

Too much mucus gives germs an opportunity to grow. As germs build up, they irritate the sinuses. In response, sinus tissue swells, blocking the passage of mucus. Swollen, irritated sinuses filled with liquid make your face feel tender and achy.

Do allergies cause sinus headaches (allergy headaches)?

Allergies themselves don’t cause headaches. However, allergies can cause sinus congestion (stuffy nose), which can lead to sinus pressure, pain and infection. If you have seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis), you’re 10 times more likely to suffer from migraines, too.

What does a sinus headache feel like?

When you have a sinus headache, your face hurts. Typically, pain gets worse when you move your head suddenly. Depending on the sinus affected, you may feel a constant dull ache behind the eyes or in your:

  • Cheekbones.
  • Forehead.
  • Bridge of the nose.

What are the other symptoms of sinus headaches?

Besides facial pain, sinus headaches cause other symptoms, including:

  • Fever.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Thick, colored mucus discharge from the nose.
  • Feeling of fullness in the ears.
  • Swollen or puffy face.

Can you have a sinus headache without being congested?

If you don’t have congestion, it’s probably not a sinus headache. The pain in your face is more likely due to a migraine (severe headache) or tension headache.

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

It’s easy to confuse the two, since migraines can also cause facial pain, nasal congestion and a runny nose. With a migraine, nasal discharge is clear. If you have a real sinus headache — caused by a sinus infection — you’ll also have a fever and thick, discolored nasal mucus.

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