Spring is here, pollen is in the air, there’s a change in the weather and sinus headaches are on the horizon, right?
While headache sufferers often describe their discomfort as a “sinus headache,” a true sinus headache (clinically called rhinosinusitis) is actually fairly uncommon and comes as a result of a viral or bacterial infection characterized by thick, discolored nasal discharge, facial pain or pressure, and often fever.
In fact, what most people are experiencing when they suffer from symptoms including facial pain and pressure, nasal and sinus congestion, and headache, is a migraine.
“It is not clear to me why, but it is very common for patients to name their headaches sinus headache, tension headaches, cluster headaches, etc. when most of them are likely migraines,” said Dr. Ty Brown of St. Elizabeth Physicians Neurology. “Decongestants are often tried given patient’s suspicion for sinus headaches. If they are effective for controlling the headaches then the decongestants aren’t a problem. Oftentimes patients take medication even though they are not effective, however. If any medication is not effective then it is not something that should be continued.”
So how do you know if you are suffering from a sinus headache or a migraine? According to the American Headache Society, criteria from the International Classification of Headache Disorders can help you tell the difference. If, in addition to symptoms of facial pain and pressure and nasal and sinus congestion, you experience nausea, sensitivity to light and/or noise, moderate to severe headache, pulsing or throbbing pain and a headache that worsens with activity, chances are you’re looking at a migraine.
One thing you’re probably right about, though? The change in the weather (at least partially) causing your headaches.
“Changing weather patterns is a common trigger for migraines,” says Dr. Brown. “Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about controlling the weather. Thus, it is more important just to be able to recognize what could be triggering migraines to attempt to control them sooner rather than later.” For example, changing weather patterns is a common trigger for a patient. Treating with a medication, such as a Triptan, early in the headache cycle may prevent it from getting worse.
If you suspect your “sinus headache” may in fact be a migraine, ask your doctor if a migraine-specific medication may be right for you. Knowing the difference between the two conditions can help you get the right diagnosis, the right treatment, and ultimately, the relief you need.