What Does a Sinus Headache Feel Like?
An overview of sinus headaches and what they feel like.
Sinus headaches are caused by an inflammation of your sinuses, the air-filled cavities around your nose, eyes, forehead and cheeks that help to humidify the air you breathe in and secrete mucus. This swelling may decrease the ability of the sinuses to allow mucus to drain, increasing pressure around your nose and eyes and leading to a sinus headache. Common causes of sinus inflammation include allergies or colds.
Sinus headaches can feel like a vise is squeezing the inside of your head behind your nose, eyes, and forehead. They may occur on one side or both sides of the head and the neck is typically not involved. Sinus headache sufferers may also experience nasal congestion, thick nasal discharge, watery eyes, internal ear pressure, swelling in the face, fever, chills, and sweats.1 Pain often worsens when you bend forward, cough, or when you wake up first thing in the morning because mucus may have collected in your sinuses during the night.
Many people confuse a sinus headache with a migraine because pain and pressure in the sinuses, nasal congestion and watery eyes often occur with both conditions.1 Sinus headaches, however, usually aren’t associated with nausea or vomiting or aggravated by noise or bright light — all common symptoms of migraines.
If you are unsure whether you have a sinus headache or a migraine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. In addition, if you experience a sudden onset of cold-like symptoms such as runny, stuffy nose, fever and facial pain that does not go away after several days or worsens, call your doctor because these could be signs that you have sinusitis, an infection of the sinuses.2
- Boisselle C, Guthmann R, Cable K. Clinical inquiry. What clinical clues differentiate migraine from sinus headaches? Pulsatile quality, duration of 4 to 72 hours, unilateral location, nausea or vomiting and disabling intensity. J Fam Pract. 2013 Dec;62(12):752-4.
- “Acute Sinusitis.” Cleveland Clinic: Health Library, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/acute-sinusitis.