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Sinus Headaches

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
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If you are suffering from sinus congestion and inflammation you may also be suffering from sinus headaches. Sinuses are hollow cavities found in your skull that have openings into the nose. The inflammation and pain in the sinuses is commonly referred to as sinusitis.

Sinusitis may be prompted by a cold or allergies as well as changes in atmospheric pressure due to swimming or high altitudes. If you have a headache caused by your irritated sinuses, you may find it occurs immediately upon awakening in the morning. The headache is often accompanied by pain and pressure around the nose and cheeks and you may notice that it becomes more intense following quick movements. Air, pus and mucus that become trapped in the sinuses result in pain and headaches. You may also experience some or all of the following:

  • Painful throat and coughing
  • Fever
  • Abnormal nasal secretions
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Swollen nasal passages
  • Non-specific bodily aches and pains
  • Tenderness
  • Pain aggravated by sharp movements

Are Some People More At Risk For Sinus Headaches?

There are numerous factors that may predispose you to sinusitis and sinus headaches. If you suffer from frequent colds and upper respiratory infections, you may find that your sinuses are easily and often inflamed. Some structural problems such as a deviated septum in the nose can put you at a higher risk of sinus headaches. Asthmatics may find that they experience frequent sinus headaches due to a greater sensitivity to allergens. If you find you are suffering from frequent sinus headaches and pain, your doctor may require you to have x-rays to check for any underlying causes.

Treating Sinus Headaches

The primary method for alleviating a sinus headache and addressing sinus inflammation due to an infection is through antibiotics. Your doctor will want to confirm that your headache and sinus pain is due to an infection before prescribing antibiotics, as there has been an increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria in recent years. Decongestants are commonly recommended to treat inflammation and other sinusitis symptoms. These may be administered by nasal or oral methods.

Medications your doctor may suggest include oxymetazoline, pheylephrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine. Caution should be taken so that overuse does not occur, or you may experience withdrawal symptoms and rebound sinus headaches. Steroid sprays are often prescribed to help the inflammation and these may include beclomethasone or triamcinolone. Typical over-the-counter preparations will usually contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen as active pain relief ingredients; these will help to alleviate sinus pain directly as well as treating headache pain. Nasal irrigation is another method that is thought to help ease inflamed sinuses and thus help sinus headaches. The idea is that the nasal area is 'rinsed,' which causes mucus and any irritating particles and bacteria to be washed away. Once these irritants are removed, your inflammation should ideally be reduced or eliminated.

Immediate Relief

For immediate relief, you can try a combination of both hot and cold towels placed on the afflicted area. Some people find that hot humid air helps to 'clear' their sinuses so you may wish to try a hot shower or a humidifier for pain relief. Be sure to also drink plenty of water to prevent the nasal lining from becoming dry and irritated. In addition, try to avoid irritants such as smoke and excessive dust. If your symptoms continue and are chronic, your doctor may decide to refer you to a nose and throat specialist. He or she will likely thoroughly examine you and may order more specialized tests to determine the root cause of your pain.

Above all, listen to your body and obtain rest if you are fatigued. Sinus headaches can be very painful for some people, particularly in combination with other uncomfortable symptoms; it is best not to exhaust yourself further.

Fortunately, sinus headaches are usually treatable and once you have seen your doctor and begun treatment, you will hopefully be on your way to clearer sinuses and a pain-free head.

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