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There are many types of headaches. While many are mild and tolerated relatively well by people, certain types of headaches can lead to debilitating pain and cause disruption in your life. Sinus headaches are one such type of headache. Sinus headaches will occur when the sinus passages or sinus glands become congested. The sinus passages are located behind your nose, eyes, forehead, and cheeks. Since the passages are located on either side of your face, a sinus headache symptoms can be felt on both or either sides of the head.[1]

When you have a sinus headache, you may feel pressure or pain not just in the head, but also at places where the sinus passages are located. Many times, a sinus headache may be a symptom of having an underlying sinus condition known as sinusitis. Sinusitis is a sinus infection that causes the nasal passages and the sinuses to become inflamed. It is this inflammation that is known as sinusitis.[2]

The sinus headache symptoms many times get misdiagnosed as a migraine headache, and a migraine headache is also commonly misdiagnosed as a sinus headache. It is essential that you are aware of the differences between a sinus headache vs. migraine so that the appropriate treatment plan can be started at the earliest. In order to understand the critical differences between sinus migraine headaches, it is vital to be aware of the sinus headache symptoms.[3]

Sinus headache symptoms

What are sinus headache symptoms?

It is essential to understand that when you experience a sinus headache, it is accompanied by inflammation of your sinuses. The signs and symptoms of a sinus headache include:

·        Yellow or green nasal discharge

·        Pressure, pain, and feeling of fullness in the forehead or behind the forehead, cheeks, or brow

·        Pain that seems to worsen if you lie down or bend forward

·        Fatigue

·        Stuffy nose

·        Feeling an ache in your upper teeth or the top jaw

Swelling and redness of the nose, cheeks, or forehead can also occur in some cases. It is rare to experience a sinus headache without congestion or sinus pain without congestion. This is because due to the congestion, the nasal passages and sinuses become inflamed, which is what causes the symptoms of a sinus headache.[4]

Congestion is also one of the main symptoms of a sinus headache, as well as the cause of sinus headaches. Congestion happens due to the swelling of the sinuses that causes pressure to buildup and prevents the proper flow of air and also blocks the drainage of the built-up mucus. It is, therefore, very rare to experience a sinus headache without congestion. If you think you have sinus pain without congestion, then it is unlikely that you have a sinus headache. It might be that you have a migraine that got misdiagnosed as a sinus headache.[5]

See: Ayurveda and Indian Herbs for Sinusitis relief

Sinus Headache vs. Migraine

Sinus Headache vs. Migraine

Is it sinus or a migraine? Migraines and sinus headaches are very easy to confuse. They are often misdiagnosed because the signs and symptoms of these two types of headaches are very similar and tend to overlap. In fact, the American Migraine Foundation believes that nearly 50 percent of all migraine misdiagnoses are due to the fact that the person thinks they have a sinus headache.[6] At the same time, around 90 percent of people who go to the doctor thinking they have a sinus headache, are diagnosed with a migraine instead.[7]

- How are sinus headaches and migraine headaches similar?

Real sinus headaches are not that common. Sinus headaches and migraines are associated with pain over the forehead or cheekbones. They often are associated with swelling of the nasal membranes. That's the reason patients and even practitioners may confuse the two. However, there are lots of differences between sinus and migraine headaches.

A widespread study known as the American Migraine Study II found that many participants who were diagnosed with migraines initially thought they had a sinus headache. The study also found that only 50 percent of the study participants (over 30,000 participants in total) who got diagnosed with migraine were sure they had a migraine before receiving the diagnosis during the study. The most common misdiagnosis of migraine headaches was sinus and vice versa.[8]

Both sinus and migraine headaches tend to get worse when you lie down or bend forward. Similar to a sinus headache, a migraine can also be accompanied by several types of nasal symptoms such as facial pressure, congestion, and a watery, clear nasal discharge. These symptoms in a migraine attack are known to be because of the involvement of the autonomic nervous system.[9, 10]

What is the difference between a sinus headache and a migraine headache?

While sinus headaches are brought on by a viral or bacterial infection, the cause of migraine headaches is mostly unknown. It involves a complex interaction between nerves, brain tissue, blood vessels, and brain chemicals. What makes it so complicated is that they may be triggered by one or more factors, from specific foods, red wine, to bright lights, to not getting enough sleep nightly.

While migraine pain may be said from the cheek area and involve nasal tissue swelling, such as sinus headaches, they are often associated with very different symptoms. As an example, migraines can be related to light or noise sensitivity and nausea, with or without nausea. These are just seen with sinus pain on infrequent occasions. On the flip side, migraine headaches are typically not associated with thick, stained nasal discharge or fever.

How do migraine symptoms compare to sinus headache symptoms?

Migraine symptoms may include:

- aura

- disabling, debilitating pain

- facial pain

- nausea with or without vomiting

- sensitivity to light or noise

- length of 4-72 hours

Sinus headache symptoms typically include:

- nasal congestion (stuffy nose)

- nasal discharge (runny nose)

- nasal tissue swelling

- yellow or green phlegm

- bad breath

- diminished or absent sense of smell

- facial pain

- fever

When it comes to sinus headache vs. migraine, the critical difference is that sinus headaches are usually not associated with vomiting or nausea. Neither do sinus headaches get worse by bright light or noises. These are all common symptoms associated with migraines.[11]

This is why it is essential to take note of your sinus headache symptoms. If you are experiencing a sinus headache without congestion, which is one of the key signs of sinus, then the chances are that you are experiencing a migraine headache instead of a sinus.[12] 

See: Nasya Ayurvedic Treatment for Healing And Relief From Sinusitis

Sinus headache remedies

Treating a Sinus Headache

Once you are diagnosed with sinus headaches, the next step is to find out the best treatment for these headaches. Doctors usually recommended allowing the sinus infections to get better on their own. The best course of action for adults experiencing sinusitis is not to receive any treatment for acute sinusitis unless they are also experiencing symptoms such as severe pain, fever, or the infection that lasts for more than a week. 

The best treatment for reliving sinus headache symptoms is to thin out the congestion that has accumulated in the sinus passages. You can use a humidifier or try irrigating the sinuses using a saline solution. This helps clean out the passages, relieving pressure on the sinuses, and alleviating your headache.[13] 

Steam may also help, and you can also try applying a warm, wet washcloth to the sinuses to enhance drainage and relieve pressure. This will help reduce the sinus headache.

Taking an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol and others), ibuprofen (brand name: Motrin I.B., Advil), and naproxen sodium (brand name: Aleve) can provide relief from a sinus headache.[14]

See: Homeopathy For Sinus Infection (Sinusitis)

Home remedies to get rid of sinus headaches

Home remedies for sinus pressure related headaches

Though some over-the-counter remedies can help reduce symptoms,  there are other helpful natural home remedies.

- Ayurvedic remedies: According to Ayurveda, the imbalance of 2 sub doshas -- Prana Vata and sub dosha Vata are the significant cause of sinus disease. The doshas imbalance also lowers your immunity and makes you vulnerable to infections. The appropriate Ayurvedic treatment for sinusitis includes detoxification through Panchkarma, medications, dietary modifications, and lifestyle modifications.

- Foods good for sinusitis according to Ayurveda

A Vata Kapha relaxing diet pacifies the Prana Vata and Shleshaka Kapha. One should avoid cold drinks, hot chilies,  and ice creams. Light foods such as khichdi are recommended also. Very good digestion is essential to eliminate toxins from the body, organic fruits and vegetables should be included in the diet.

- Foods like bell peppers, bananas, eggplant, and tomatoes should be avoided as these may clog the uterus. Having regular meals is suggested to lower your digestive imbalance.

- Grate a slice of ginger and extract its own juice. Consume this juice with honey two-four times each day.

- Ayurvedic kriya treatment such as Jal Neti can also help remove the mucus and wash out the blockages. Regular practice of the kriya reduces your chances of getting the sinus infection

- Boil four glasses of water, add two cloves, basil leaves, mint leaves, and a slice of ginger. Let it cool and keep sipping this through the day.

- Relaxation: Your sinus pressure might make you feel the tension in your head, face, and throat. Biofeedback treatment, an alternative treatment system that teaches you how you can control your bodily functions, can alleviate this pressure. This method has had demonstrated success in relieving headaches, including deep breathing exercises and meditation to achieve comfort and decrease pain. Relaxation methods, such as yoga and meditation, can help reduce pressure and pain from sinus infections.

- Sleep & Rest: A great night's sleep can enable the body to heal. Sleep helps your brain to release hormones that promote tissue development. Also, when you are at rest, your body can produce more white blood cells necessary for attacking viruses and other germs. Avoid activities or beverages which are over-stimulating before bed. Allowing your body to break can help reduce sinus pressure, speed your recovery period, and leave you feeling more refreshed.

- Elevation: Just as sleep is critical for recovery, how you sleep may alleviate nasal symptoms. The lying level can increase mucus buildup in your nasal passages, boost your nasal pressure, and disrupt your sleep cycle. Prop up your head with pillows at night to keep your head over your heart. This sleeping position will avoid sinus buildup and can enable you to breathe more comfortably.

- Steam: Dry air and dry sinuses can boost sinus pressure that causes headaches and throbbing pain. Steam increases moisture in the air and helps to moisten your sinus passages, and thins mucus out, which may have thickened over time. Have a hot shower and breathe in the steam to decrease pressure. You can even use a humidifier for better long-term relief. Add eucalyptus oil to your bath to accelerate your recovery. Eucalyptus oil comprises cineole, a component known to accelerate the healing of severe hepatitis. The oil also may help reduce nasal stuffiness and clean your pathways.

- Saline flush: A frequent treatment for sinus congestion and pressure is a saline wash. Saline spray comprises a salt, which helps increase moisture in your nose and reduce nasal pressure. You can purchase saline spray in drugstores, or you could create your own with baking soda, distilled water, and iodine-free salt.

- Hydration: Dehydration can bring about your sinus passages drying out and increased stress on your face. Raise your water consumption through the day if you are feeling under the weather. Fluids will minimize blockages in your sinuses. Water may be your first choice to stay hydrated, but you can also get fluids through other foods and drinks, including tea, broth soups, ice cubes, and water-based veggies and fruits

- Exercise: Similar to yoga, exercise can decrease sinus pressure. Physical activity can boost blood circulation and temporarily alleviate congestion to facilitate breathing. Although uncomfortable to do while being ill, physical activity can help improve your recovery time and accelerate recovery.

See: Yoga for sleep disorders


If you find that you are not experiencing any relief from your sinus headache from these at-home remedies, then your doctor may recommend certain prescription medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and mucolytics to treat the underlying sinus infection. Mucolytics are medications that help thin out and clear the built-up mucus. If you have reoccurring sinus headaches due to seasonal allergies or due to sinusitis, then you might need to take prescription medications for preventing these headaches and managing your condition. At the same time, making healthy lifestyle changes to decrease the chances of congestion, such as quitting smoking, avoiding allergens, practicing, and aerobic exercises can help reduce the occurrence of sinus headaches.

See: Migraine With Aura Symptoms & Natural Treatments


1. Couch, J.R., 1988, December. Sinus headache: a neurologist's viewpoint. In Seminars in neurology (Vol. 8, No. 04, pp. 298-302). © 1988 by Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.

2. Hamilos, D.L., 2000. Chronic sinusitis. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 106(2), pp.213-227.

3. Cady, R.K., and Schreiber, C.P., 2002. Sinus headache or migraine?: Considerations in making a differential diagnosis. Neurology, 58(9 suppl 6), pp.S10-S14.

4. Blumenthal, H.J., 2001. Headaches and sinus disease. Headache: The Journal of Head & Face Pain, 41(9), pp.883-888.

5. Zhang, N., Van Zele, T., Perez-Novo, C., Van Bruaene, N., Holtappels, G., DeRuyck, N., Van Cauwenberge, P., and Bachert, C., 2008. Different types of T-effector cells orchestrate mucosal inflammation in chronic sinus disease. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, 122(5), pp.961-968.

6. 2020. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2020].

7. Al-Hashel, J.Y., Ahmed, S.F., Alroughani, R., and Goadsby, P.J., 2013. Migraine misdiagnosis as sinusitis, a delay that can last for many years. The journal of headache and pain, 14(1), p.97.

8. Lipton, R.B., Diamond, S., Stewart, W.F., Diamond, M.L., and Reed, M., 2001. Prevalence & burden of migraine in the United States: data from the American Migraine Study II. Headache: The Journal of Head & Face Pain, 41(7), pp.646-657.

9. Shechter, A., Stewart, W.F., Silberstein, S.D., and Lipton, R.B., 2002. Migraine & autonomic nervous system function: a population-based, case-control study. Neurology, 58(3), pp.422-427.

10. Rubin, L.S., Graham, D., Pasker, R., and Calhoun, W., 1985. Autonomic nervous system dysfunction in common migraine. Headache: The Journal of Head & Face Pain, 25(1), pp.40-48.

11. Jensen, K., Tfelt‐Hansen, P., Lauritzen, M., and Olesen, J., 1986. Classic migraine: a prospective recording of symptoms. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 73(4), pp.359-362.

12. Cady, R.K., 2002. Distinguishing "sinus headache" from migraine headaches. Advanced Studies in Medicine, 2(16), pp.582-585.

13. Farrer, F., 2014. Blocked nose and sinus headaches: clinical. S.A. Pharmacist's Assistant, 14(3), pp.16-18.

14. Geria, N.M., Warner-Lambert Co LLC, 1995. Treatment of sinus headache. U.S. Patent 5,478,565.

See: Prevent Menstrual Migraines & Hormonal Headaches

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