Poor air quality? Allergies? A cold? There are many reasons to get a sinus headache, but what treatments actually work? Discover treatment tips that can help to lessen the symptoms of a sinus headache and speed up your recovery.
Your sinuses are located along your forehead, behind the bridge of the nose and under your cheek bones. Sinuses are basically hollow air filled cavities. Typically, they are lined with a thin mucus layer. Their purpose is to help humidify and filter air. They may also affect the sound of our voice. Sinus cavities are present at birth, but do not fully develop until late in the teen years.
Sinus pain typically occurs due to an infection or allergy which affects the mucosal lining and causes it to become inflamed (leading to pressure and pain). This results in headache type symptoms. Sinus headaches are often found in conjunction with other types of headaches (particularly, tension and migraine type headaches). In many cases, sinus pain is the initial trigger that causes an associated tension and/or migraine headache.
Sinus headaches are typically easy to diagnose. Typical symptoms include:
- Pain and pressure along the cheekbones, forehead, and/or bridge of your nose.
- Palpation over top of the sinus cavities is usually painful.
- Worsening pain when straining (increasing your blood pressure via the Valsalva maneuver).
- Worsening pain when bending or leaning over.
- Accompanying symptoms of illness or allergy including: a stuffy or runny nose; earache or feeling of fullness in your ears; fever; and/or swelling in your face.
9 Treatment Tips for a Sinus Headache:
- Address the cause of the headache and treat with medication (if necessary). If you are suffering from an allergy or cold symptoms, then taking medication (such as an antihistamine or decongestant) may be appropriate to help reduce the mucosal buildup in the sinus and help elevate the pressure. You might also consider an anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce the swelling in the mucosal lining. In the case of a sinus infection, an antibiotic may be indicated. Please speak with your medical physician regarding medication treatment options. (You may consider using natural decongestants as noted below.)
- Eliminate allergens. Many sinus headaches are not caused by illness, but from an allergy. The most common irritants are airborne, but even food allergies or sensitivities can worsen symptoms. An example of this is a milk allergy. Milk products are often associated with increased mucous production in those with allergies or sensitivities. This can lead to build up in the sinus cavity.
- Utilize hot and/or cold compresses. Another option is to utilize a hot and/or cold compress over the sinus cavities. It can help to reduce pain and help the cavities to start draining. People tend to have very strong feelings on their preference for heat or cold, so choose what works best for you. I personally have found that alternating between heat and cold every couple of minutes works well.
- Use a Neti Pot to cleanse and protect your nasal passages. This treatment has been around a long time. Essentially, you fill the Neti Pot with a warm fluid (typically, saline solution). Tilt your head and slowly pour the liquid into your nose so it can circulate into the sinus and then out the other side to help clear them of congestion. It’s basically a form of nasal irrigation.
- Stay upright. Lying down on your back or especially your stomach especially tends to worsen symptoms because of the anatomy of the sinus cavities. Using gravity by remaining upright or staying semi-reclined can help the sinus cavities to remain clear.
- Self massage. Gentle self massage around the sinus cavity can also be helpful. I typically advise the massage before and after utilizing either the hot/cold compresses or before and after using the Neti Pot. The technique is simple. Just slowly and gently massage over top of the sinus cavities. Initially, make small circles and finish with small swiping motions out and away from the cavity toward the ears and hairline. This should not be painful. If the pain worsens, then discontinue.
- Use a humidifier. One of the purposes of the sinuses is to humidify the air you breathe. It’s important to not let the mucosal layer dry out. A humidifier can be very helpful in the treatment of sinus symptoms and may also be helpful in preventing symptoms if this is a chronic problem for you.
- Use natural decongestants. Using essential oils or vapor rubs products that contain mint or menthol can be very helpful in temporally opening up the sinus cavities. Many are inhaled (by combining with a humidifier) or applied topically. In the case of topical application, the sensation of the product may also help with pain. Just be sure to follow the instructions and keep away from direct contact on the mucosal lining and your eyes.
- Address other associated headache symptoms. Sinus headaches tend to trigger other types of headaches, so you will likely need to treat not only the sinus symptoms but also any other headache symptoms that occur. Generally, headaches are classified into four or five different categories. There are many potential sub categories as well. Please refer to Q & A: What Causes Headaches?
We are all likely to suffer from sinus headache symptoms at one time or another. Using these treatment tips can help to lessen the symptoms and speed up your recovery. If you are chronically experiencing sinus headache symptoms, it’s important to determine the cause and work on preventing symptoms. For those who experience chronic symptoms, addressing food sensitivities will be an important component to long term management.
What is your go-to remedy when treating a sinus headache? Please share your tips!
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