How to Know if You’ve Got a Sinus Headache (and Get Rid of It)

When your sinuses become inflamed, you can experience what’s known as sinus headache.

People often blame their headaches on sinusitis, but how do you know if you’re really experiencing a sinus headache?

It’s important to know what you’re experiencing if you want to treat your headache correctly and make a quick recovery.


Your sinuses are pockets or cavities in the bones of your skull, located behind your brows, between your eyes, and behind your nose and cheeks. Under normal conditions, these cavities are unblocked and clear. But when drainage is blocked, you may experience a sinus headache.

As mucus builds up in your sinuses, bacteria and viruses can take hold, resulting in infection, inflammation, and swelling. The buildup of pressure in the sinus area is what causes the pain.

Infection vs allergy

The inflammation you get with sinus headaches is usually due to infection or an allergic reaction in the sinuses. Allergy-related sinus headaches could be linked to hay fever, sneezing, and itching.

Infection-related sinus headaches are associated with thick, discoloured discharge. You might experience a compromised sense of smell, fever, and sinus pressure. See your doctor or healthcare professional if you experience these symptoms.

Acute vs chronic

Acute sinus headaches last for less than four weeks, and they’re usually due to infection. Chronic sinus infections, however, can last for three months or more. Chronic sinusitis can be caused by infection or growths in the sinuses. In some cases it can also arise from a deviated nasal septum. Again, visit your doctor or healthcare professional if you think you may be experiencing chronic sinusitis.


So how can you tell if it’s a sinus headache?

Typical symptoms include pain behind the eyes and at the front of your face, together with a runny and stuffy nose. You might experience a sense of pressure or pain in your cheeks, forehead, and brow area. Your headache could intensify when you bend over, or when lying down. Additional symptoms can include fatigue and aches in your upper teeth, jaw, or other areas of your head.

Sinus pain is usually worse in the morning and better later in the day. Damp and cold weather also tends to make it worse.

Sinus headaches vs regular headaches and migraines

It’s easy to confuse sinus headaches with tension headaches (the most common type of headache), migraine headaches, and cluster headaches, because the symptoms can overlap.

One way to tell the difference between sinusitis and migraines is that sinus headaches don’t usually come with nausea or vomiting. Additionally, if you have sinusitis, your symptoms probably won’t be aggravated by noise and bright lights, unlike migraines. Also look for tell-tale symptoms specific to sinus headaches, like pain around the sinuses and increased pain when bending over.

Related: Waking Up With A Headache? This Might Be Why

Diagnosis and treatment

Your doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis and work out whether you have sinusitis or a regular headache or migraine. Usually a physical exam will be sufficient to diagnose your sinus headache, but in some cases your doctor might wish to conduct an MRI or CT scan. Treatment varies depending on whether it’s caused by allergies or an infection.

Prescription products

If it’s caused by allergies, your sinus headache could be treated with nasal decongestants and antihistamines. Ask your doctor to recommend an appropriate product, especially if you have other medical conditions.

Sinus headaches caused by infection could be treated with antibiotics if it’s a bacterial rather than viral infection. Your doctor could also prescribe a nasal steroid spray, designed to treat the swelling in your sinuses and reduce congestion.

Pain relief

Over-the-counter pain medication can relieve temporary pain while your immune system fights off the infection. Anti-inflammatory products like Herron Blue could help you manage pain.

Home remedies

If you have mild symptoms, you may be able to relieve your sinus headache with home remedies. For example, experts recommend rinsing the nose and sinuses with sterile saline solution. Over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays could also help alleviate the symptoms of your sinus infection.

Some also recommend trying an air humidifier to increase the humidity in your house. It’s important to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated as you recover, and remember to check with your doctor before using any self-administered remedies.


In extreme cases involving chronic sinusitis or deviated septums, surgery can be an option for patients. The surgeon – usually an ear, nose, and throat specialist – removes tissue from the sinus to widen the sinus openings and to allow proper sinus drainage.

Preventing sinus headaches

While it’s not always possible to prevent sinus infections, you can minimise the chance of having to deal with a painful sinus headache.

Avoid smoking and cigarette smoke as cigarette smoke heightens the risk of sinusitis. Practice good hygiene, especially during the cold and flu season. Wash your hands often throughout the day to reduce the risk of bacterial and viral exposure.

Sinus headaches are less common than headaches and migraines, but when they strike they’re painful and disruptive. If you consult your doctor and address your infection as early as possible, your sinus headache could clear up within a week or two.

Disclaimer: The Herron blog is interested in general community wellbeing and information, and does not imply that Herron products should be used for serious ailments without the advice or recommendation from your healthcare practitioner.

All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.