Headache: Is it Sinusitis or Migraine?

What is a headache?

The primary sign of a headache is pain in one’s head or face. Frequently it is defined as a pressure which is throbbing, constant, sharp or dull. Headaches can vary based on pain type, severity, location and frequency.

Headache: Is it Sinusitis or Migraine? 1

What are the types of headache?

More than 150 types of headaches are known to exist. These types have been classified further into two predominant categories namely the primary headaches and the secondary headaches.

Primary headaches are caused by the dysfunction or over-activity of pain sensation features in the head. They are neither a symptom of nor caused by any underlying medication condition. In some cases, the genes of one makes them more likely to develop primary headaches.

Forms of primary headaches are:

  • Tension headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Cluster headache
  • New daily persistent headache (NDPH)

Primary headaches triggered by lifestyle elements or situations are:

  • Alcohol (especially red wine)
  • Foods like processed meats (food-triggered headache)
  • Consuming nicotine (nicotine headache)
  • Developments in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Physical activity (exertion headache)
  • Skipped meals (hunger headache)
  • Coughing, sneezing, nose blowing, straining, laughing or crying (primary cough headache)

Secondary headaches are caused by underlying medical conditions. They are deemed as a symptom or sign of a condition.

Forms of secondary headaches that are not serious and recovers once the underlying medical condition is treated include:

  • Dehydration headache
  • Sinus headache
  • Medication overuse headache

Forms of secondary headaches that are a sign of a serious or potentially fatal condition include:

  • Spinal headache
  • Thunderclap headache

How is a sinusitis headache different from a migraine headache?

Sinusitis or migraine headaches are easy to mix up as the signs and symptoms of the two types of headaches overlap. Both the headaches get worse when one bends forward. They also display symptoms like facial pain, nasal congestion and a runny nose. Only a thick discolored nasal mucus and a fever distinguishes between a sinusitis headache and migraine headache. Sinus infection leads to the drainage of discolored nasal mucus, which is not the case for a migraine headache. Also sinusitis headaches often last days or longer, and migraines last hours to a day or two.

What is a sinusitis headache?

Sinusitis Headache image by Dr CVK Chaitanya Rao

A sinus headache arises due to an infection in the sinuses and feels like pressure around the eyes, cheeks and forehead.

Types of sinuses are:

  • Frontal sinus
  • Ethmoid sinus
  • Maxillary sinus
  • Sphenoid sinus

A sinusitis headache usually:

  • Arises after a viral upper respiratory infection or cold
  • Involves thick, discolored nasal mucus
  • Triggers pain in one cheek or upper teeth

What are the symptoms of a sinusitis headache?

The symptoms of a sinusitis headache are:

  • Pain, pressure and fullness in the cheeks, brow or forehead
  • The pain worsens on bending forward or lying
  • Stuffy nose
  • Fatigue
  • Ache in the upper tooth
  • Fever
  • Thick, coloured mucus discharge from the nose

Causes, diagnosis and treatment of a sinusitis headache

Sinusitis Headache treatment by Dr GVK Chaitanya Rao

How to get relief from a sinusitis headache?

To get relief from a sinusitis headache try the following steps:

  • Apply a warm compress to affected areas of the face
  • Use a decongestant to reduce sinus swelling and allow the mucus to drain
  • Use a saline nasal spray or drops to thin out the mucus
  • Use a vaporizer to inhale steam

Risks, preventions and triggers of a sinusitis headache

What is a migraine headache?

Migraine headache image by Dr GVK Chaitanya Rao

A migraine headache tends to cause an acute throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, generally on one side of the head. It is frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine headaches can last for hours to days. During a migraine attack , the pain can be so severe that it ends up affecting one’s day to day life.

A warning symptom known as an aura appears before or with the headache for some. An aura can contain visual disturbances (like flashes of light and blind spots) or other disturbances (like tingling on one side of the face, arm or leg and speaking problems).

What are the symptoms of a migraine headache?

Usually migraine progresses through four stages namely prodrome, aura, attack and post-drome. Not everybody who is suffering from a migraine headache goes through all stages.

One or two days prior to a migraine headache, one might observe changes that works as an alert for an upcoming migraine headache including:

  • Constipation
  • Mood swings
  • Food cravings
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Increased urination
  • Fluid retention
  • Frequent yawning

An aura might occur before or during a migraine headache for some. They are reversible signs of the nervous system and are usually visual. Though sometimes they can also include other disturbances. Each and every symptom begins slowly, builds up over several minutes and can last up to 60 minutes.

Examples of migraine auras can be listed as:

  • Visual phenomena (like seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light)
  • Vision loss
  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking

A migraine headache normally lasts from 4 to 72 hours if left untreated. The occurrence of a migraine headache varies from person to person. It might occur rarely or strike several times a month.

During a migraine headache one might have:

  • Pain typically on one side of the head, but often on both sides
  • Pain that feels like throbbing or pulsing
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and in some cases smell and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting

Post the migraine attack one might feel drained, confused and washed out for up to a day. Some also report feeling elated. While sudden head movement might bring on the pain again briefly.

Causes, diagnosis and treatment of a migraine headache

Migraine headache treatment by Dr GVK Chaitanya Rao

What are the risk factors related to a migraine headache?

The risk factors related to a migraine headache can be listed as:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Hormonal changes

How can migraine headaches be prevented?

To prevent migraine headaches, one can try out the below mentioned lifestyle changes:

  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Follow a sleeping and eating routine
  • Drink ample of fluids
  • Maintain a headache diary
  • Exercise regularly

Medically reviewed by SinusDoctor,
Dr G V K Chaitanya Rao

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