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Is Your Sinus Headache Really a Migraine?

By HERWriter
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Could Your Sinus Headache Really Be a Migraine? Tom Wang/Fotolia

If you think you have a sinus headache, the odds are good that you're wrong. More than 80 percent of people who think they have a sinus headache actually have a migraine, according to WebMD.

That can be a big problem because the treatment for one type of headache won’t fix the other type.

Sinus headache is caused by inflammation and swelling of the tissue inside your sinus cavities, usually as a result of an allergic reaction or an infection. This inflammation causes excess mucus production that can lead to a runny nose.

If your sinuses don’t drain properly, they can become blocked. Pressure that builds up in the sinuses causes the pain of a sinus headache.

Migraine headaches share some symptoms with sinus headaches, which makes it easy to confuse the two.

In addition to head pain that is worse when you move, migraine symptoms typically include nausea, light or sound sensitivity, and severe pain or throbbing that is worse on one side of the head. Migraines are often triggered by changes in the weather, by stress, or by the time of month for women.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, true sinus headaches are rare and are typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection in the sinuses. Symptoms of a sinus infection often include thick nasal discharge that is discolored or cloudy, an altered sense of smell, and a fever.

If you have a headache but aren’t sure whether it could be a migraine, the American Migraine Foundation recommends asking yourself these three questions:

1) In the last three months, did your headaches interfere with your ability to function or cause you to miss work, school or other activities?

2) Do you ever feel nauseous when you have a headache?

3) Do you ever have light sensitivity with a headache?

According to the Foundation, if you answered yes to any two of these questions, the odds are 93 percent that you had a migraine. If you answered yes to all three questions, a migraine is 98 percent likely.

Sinus headache treatment typically starts with decongestants and pain relievers to ease sinus pressure and help drainage. Your doctor may also prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation or antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection.

A sinus headache should ease up soon after you start these treatments.

If your headache does not go away, talk to your doctor about other possible causes.

Migraine headache treatments have two goals — to stop headache pain when it happens and to prevent future migraines from occurring.

Trying to self-medicate may actually make a migraine headache worse. If you mistakenly believe you have a sinus headache, you may take pain relievers that can cause a rebound headache soon after the first headache goes away.

If you have headaches that don’t respond to pain relievers or keep coming back, talk to your doctor about the possibility that you might have migraine headaches.

Reviewed July 5, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Migraine or Sinus Headache? WebMD. Web. Retrieved June 30, 2016.

Sinus Headaches. WebMD. Web. Retrieved June 30, 2016.

Sinus Headaches. American Migraine Foundation. Susan Hutchinson, MD.  Web. Retrieved June 30, 2016.

Sinus Headache vs. Migraine. Michigan Headache & Neurological institute. Web. Retrieved June 30, 2016.

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EmpowHER Guest

Very interesting! I had no idea up to 80 percent of people who thought they had a sinus headache really had a migraine. Great info to know!

July 8, 2016 - 11:18am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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