Sinus Headache vs. Migraine: Identification and Treatment

The most common headache is a tension headache that usually comes as the result of stress, anxiety or muscle strains. They range from unpleasant to debilitating.  It can be hard to tell the difference between sinus versus migraine headaches.

Early treatment can help reduce or eliminate the headache but if you don’t know which kind you have, it may be difficult to decide what to do or take.

Symptoms of Sinus versus Migraine Headaches

Both sinus headaches and migraines may exhibit the same or similar symptoms like a runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, and most prominently, pressure in the forehead and cheeks.

They do differ in that with a sinus headache there can also be a fever and the person’s breath may smell bad.

Sinus Headaches

When the passages (sinus cavities) behind the eyes, nose, cheeks and forehead become congested, a headache can occur.  The pressure or pain is not just in the head but anywhere in the sinus area and can be felt on either or both sides of the head.  Occasionally there is also fatigue, aching in the top of the jaw, or redness and swelling in the cheek area.

They can occur because of the seasons like allergies, or at other times when something triggers a reaction.  


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These are severe headaches and they have additional symptoms including nausea, flashing lights or an aura sensation, sensitivity to light and/or sound, even temporary vision loss or vomiting.  Migraines usually only affect one side of the head, but not always.

Triggers can include anxiety, alcohol, and hormonal changes.  Sometimes there are indicators a day or so before.

At this time it is unclear if sinus headaches and migraines are related.

Treatment Options

There are a number of over-the-counter remedies for headaches available, like aspirin and ibuprofen.  Sometimes using warm compress on your head or shower can help. 

There are also non invasive applications like massage, meditation and relaxation exercises. However, relief may not be immediate. If you can identify triggers, prevention is the best option though changing diet, or managing stress differently.

There are prescription medications available to treat migraines that have been proven effective.  For sinus headaches that stem from infections, an antibiotic may sometimes be prescribed.

If any type of headache becomes more severe or occurs more frequently, you should consult with a physician.  If you have tried OTC treatments but don’t receive enough relief, or if your daily activities have are becoming compromised, you should also make an appointment to have a thorough check up to rule out more serious issues.

There are also some proponents of non-traditional or non-Western medical options.  Just be sure to loop your attending physician in on your choices.

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