Almost everybody experiences headaches at some point.
According to statistics published by the World Health Organization, almost three quarters of all adults between the ages of 18 and 65 experience persistent headaches, with half of those individuals experiencing migraine headaches.
Headaches can severely impact everyday life and make it difficult to function normally. There are many causes that contribute toward persistent headaches, with most caused by inflammation.
Headaches commonly manifest as pain around the forehead and temples, but can also affect the neck and upper shoulders. While headaches are commonly temporary, some individuals experience chronic headaches over a long period of time.
The two most common forms of chronic headaches are migraine headaches, which can cause light sensitivity and nausea, and sinus headaches, which can cause the nasal passages to become inflamed.
Most people, when experiencing a headache, will turn to over-the-counter medications without attempting to discern the root cause of the issue. Migraine headaches can often be treated effectively by these solutions, but sinus headaches can be more difficult to treat.
Sinus headaches are typically caused by either an allergic reaction or infection that causes the tissue in the nasal passages to become irritated and inflamed, causing discomfort in the nose bridge, cheekbones and forehead.
In this article, we’ll examine the most common causes of sinus headaches and provide a breakdown of the most effective preventative measures and treatments.
What Causes Sinus Headaches?
The sinuses are a series of interconnected cavities in the skull. Consisting of four primary regions above, below and between the eyes, the sinuses are lined with soft pink tissue called mucosa.
These areas are normally empty and lined with a thin layer of mucus which has numerous functions such as assisting with the filtration of inhaled air and defending the body against pathogens.
Sinus headaches can be caused by a wide range of factors. Sinusitis is a common health condition that can contribute to sinus headaches in which the sinus cavities become congested due to inflammation.
Other respiratory infections such as the common cold and flu can cause sinus headaches, as can seasonal allergies and hay fever. In a healthy state, sinuses are generally clear and allow excess mucus to drain away, allowing air to flow freely.
Sinusitis and other sinus conditions cause mucus to build up in the sinus, allowing bacteria, fungi and viruses to colonize the body and grow out of control.
Sinusitis and sinus headaches are often experienced by people with a history of allergies and respiratory disorders such as asthma.
Swelling in the nasal passage, nasal polyps and medical conditions like nasal bone spurs, a deviated septum, or a cleft palate can also contribute to sinus headaches.
Lastly, frequent swimming or diving in variable pressure environments can destabilize the homeostasis of the sinuses, causing sinus headaches.
Sinus Headache Symptoms
There are a number of key differences between migraine headaches and sinus headaches. The most common symptom of sinus headaches is a dull pain in the sinus area around the eyes or behind the nose.
This pain normally stems from the bridge of the nose, but can extend into the forehead. A loss of olfactory senses and the ability to smell is another common indicator of sinus issues, as is an inability to taste.
Sinus headaches caused by sinus infections can also cause bad breath and excessive discolored mucus discharge.
Sinus headaches are normally worse in the morning.
The body requires gravity to drain the sinuses of excess mucus, so when the body is at rest and horizontal during sleeping hours, the sinuses are unable to drain effectively, causing mucus to build up in the sinuses that contributes to sinus headaches.
Sinus conditions are also associated with coughing, a runny nose, sore throat, and fever.
Pain experiences while moving the eyes is another sign that you may be experiencing sinus headaches, as well as a feeling of generalized fatigue or pain while moving. Sinus headaches can cause hearing difficulty and a sensation of “blocked ears” that won’t go away.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s likely you have some form of sinus condition that is causing sinus headaches.
Note that migraine headaches have different causes than sinus headaches. While causing similar symptoms, sinus headaches and migraine headaches have different causes and should be treated differently.
Some of the key indicators that you may be experiencing migraine headaches instead of sinus headaches is a sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, or an ongoing throbbing pain in one side of the head.
Preventing And Treating Sinus Headaches
While pharmaceutical medications are effective in treating almost any form of headache, there are a number of natural solutions that have been proven to be just as effective as their chemical counterparts.
One of the most important factors to consider if you’re experiencing sinus headaches is whether you may have any undiagnosed allergies that are contributing to sinus inflammation.
If you’re not sure whether you have any allergies, consult with a medical professional and stay away from any substances that you’ve been diagnosed with an allergy to.
Regularly washing your hands will help to prevent pathogens from infecting your sinuses, as will drinking plenty of water. Flu shots are important in keeping seasonal illnesses under control.
If you’re experiencing a blocked or stuffy nose due to the flu or common cold, try to minimize your usage of nasal sprays as they can often irritate the sinuses and nasal tract if used excessively.
The sinus conditions that cause sinus headaches are often systemic disorders that are caused by nutritional deficiency or other lifestyle factors. Be sure to provide your body with all of the macro and micronutrients it needs to maintain good health.
Medications such as ibuprofen and paracetamol are effective in treating sinus conditions, but should be used sparingly.
The primary cause of sinus headaches is congestion in the nasal tract. You can reduce the impact of blocked sinuses by flushing your nose with warm salt water.
While unpleasant, this is a highly effective way to remove the built up mucus and bacteria in the sinuses that cause sinus headaches.
A 2002 clinical trial determined that regular saline nasal irrigation greatly decreases the symptoms of sinusitis and decreases the need for medication. Filling a pot with hot water and inhaling steam also helps to minimize buildup in the sinuses.
Natural Treatments For Sinus Headaches
There are many natural ways to reduce the impact and prevalence of sinus headaches. Natural herbs and botanical extracts are able to boost immune function and clear the sinuses. Here are a few easy ways to minimize the effect of sinus headaches naturally:
- Garlic is a natural antibacterial agent. Garlic contains an organic compound called allicin that has been demonstrated to function as a powerful bacteria killer. To use garlic to minimize the effects of a sinus headache, add boiling water to a bowl containing a few crushed cloves of garlic. Cover the bowl with a towel and inhale the steam to naturally treat the bacteria that cause sinusitis.
- Both apple cider vinegar and honey have powerful medicinal and antibacterial effects. Combining these two ingredients into a cup of warm water will provide a soothing and health-enhancing beverage that will boost immune function and help the body fight against sinus infection.
- Lemon is a rich source of vitamin C that can dramatically boost immune system function. Boiling lemon balm leaves in water to create a lemon balm tea will provide your body with a health-enhancing boost of vitamin C that will help shake off the bacteria that cause sinus headaches.
- Turmeric has a wide range of health benefits, including as a treatment for the influenza virus, a common cause of sinusitis. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory organic compound that can improve the mucus drainage in sinuses, relieving sinus headaches. Incorporating turmeric powder in your cooking or taking a turmeric supplement is a great way to reduce the frequency of sinus headaches.
- Fenugreek is another potent anti-inflammatory agent. Rich in linoleic acids, which are an essential omega-6 fatty acid, fenugreek has been clinically demonstrated to significantly reduce inflammation and prevent sinus headaches. Fenugreek powder taken in warm water or fenugreek supplements are easy ways to increase your dietary intake of this helpful herb.
- Just like garlic, eucalyptus oil is a powerful antimicrobial and antibacterial agent that can break down the bacterial infections that cause sinus infections. A few drops of essential oils on a cotton bud and inhaled will quickly clear blocked sinuses.
- The tomato has been demonstrated to have a positive effect on the regeneration of the mucus membranes inside the sinuses. Increasing the dietary intake of tomato or drinking raw tomato juice helps the body repair damaged sinus tissue faster, alleviating sinus headaches.
- Ginger has been used in traditional medicine systems from around the world for thousands of years as a treatment for sinus infections. Rich in phytochemicals that deliver antioxidant and antibacterial effects, ginger is able to rapidly treat the symptoms of sinus headaches. Ginger tea or ginger supplements are economical and effective ways to incorporate ginger into your diet.
Sinus Headaches Summary
While sinus headaches are debilitating and disruptive, they are far easier to prevent and treat than some of the other forms of chronic headaches.
Ensuring you’re maintaining positive overall health will keep sinus headaches in check, so always be sure to maintain good nutrition and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
Regularly cleaning and dusting your home can minimize the environmental causes of sinus irritation that cause sinus headaches. Lastly, if you’re experiencing ongoing chronic sinus headaches, always be sure to consult a medical professional.