Exploring the Link Between Sinus/Nasal  Issues and Headaches

Man with a headache seeing a doctor.


At Texas Sinus and Snoring, we see people for “sinus headaches” every day. Many people come in complaining of face pain and pressure or a headache centered in their forehead and immediately think it's coming from their sinuses.

However, headaches are a common medical complaint affecting millions of individuals in the United States. While headaches can arise from various causes, sinus-related issues are often implicated in the development of certain types of headaches.

In this blog post, I will dig into the major causes of headaches in the U.S., discuss different types of headaches and their prevalence, explore the concept of sinus variant migraine, examine the etiology and incidence of sinusitis, chronic sinusitis, acute sinusitis, and acute on chronic sinusitis, and investigate the association between sinus issues and headaches, including Sinus Headaches, Sluder's Syndrome, and the role of a deviated septum in headache development.

Major Causes of Headaches in the U.S.:

Headaches are a widespread health concern in the U.S., with various factors contributing to their onset.

Major causes of headaches include tension-type headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, rebound headaches from medication overuse and, less commonly, secondary headaches related to underlying medical conditions.

Sinus-related headaches, characterized by pain and pressure in the forehead, cheeks, and around the eyes, can also be a significant source of head pain for many individuals.

Types of Headaches and Their Prevalence:

Headaches are broadly classified into several types, with migraines and tension-type headaches being the most common primary headache disorders.

Migraines are characterized by recurrent episodes of moderate to severe pulsating head pain, often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and visual disturbances.

Tension-type headaches are typically described as mild to moderate bilateral head pain with a sensation of tightness or pressure around the head.

If we determine that the types of headaches you are having are migraines then we have neurology partners that can help manage them. However, sometimes migraines can mimic sinus disease.

Woman with a sinus headache

Sinus Variant Migraine:

There is a subtype of migraine known as sinus variant migraine, which can present with symptoms similar to sinus headache, including facial pressure, nasal congestion, and postnasal drip.

Sinus variant migraine is a type of primary headache disorder and, while it shares some features with sinus-related headaches, its underlying pathophysiology is distinct and involves abnormal brain activity rather than sinus inflammation.

Diagnosis of sinus variant migraine requires careful evaluation and at Texas Sinus and Snoring, we ensure that every patient gets a CT scan and nasal endoscope the same day to help distinguish between sinus disease, allergic rhinitis, migraine variant and other similar entities.

Many ENT practices in Houston make diagnostic decisions without any scans or objective data at all.

The Best ENT practices always include tests and studies to confirm diagnoses before committing to a treatment course.

Sinusitis and Headaches:

Sinusitis is a condition characterized by inflammation and swelling of the paranasal sinuses, which can lead to symptoms such as facial pain, pressure, nasal congestion and headache.

Chronic sinusitis refers to persistent inflammation lasting for more than 12 weeks, while acute sinusitis presents with sudden onset of symptoms lasting up to 4 weeks.

Acute on chronic sinusitis occurs when an acute exacerbation occurs in a patient with underlying, chronic, sinus inflammation. There are definite criteria that help make the diagnosis of chronic sinusitis. A well-done CT scan and a nasal endoscope are necessary to help your doctor get it right.

Incidence and Prevalence of Headache as a Symptom of Sinusitis:

Headache is a common symptom of sinusitis, particularly in cases of acute or chronic sinus inflammation.

The pain experienced in sinus-related headaches is typically localized to the frontal, maxillary, or ethmoid sinuses and worsens with changes in head position, atmospheric pressure, or nasal congestion.

The presence of nasal discharge, facial tenderness, fever, and purulent nasal secretions can aid in distinguishing sinus-related headaches from other types of headaches.

We always listen to patient complaints to help guide us, but we use diagnostic tests and studies to help us understand what is causing your symptoms and, more importantly, how to treat it appropriately.

Young doctor consulting a smiling patient.

Sluder's Syndrome and Deviated Septum:

Sluder's Syndrome, also known as sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia, is a rare condition that can cause severe unilateral facial pain, often misdiagnosed as sinus headache.

This condition involves inflammation of the sphenopalatine ganglion, a nerve cluster located in the nasal cavity, leading to intense facial pain.

Additionally, a deviated septum, a common anatomical variation where the nasal septum is displaced to one side, can contribute to chronic sinus issues and recurrent headaches due to impaired airflow and mucus drainage in the sinuses.

In conclusion, headaches can stem from a myriad of causes, with sinus-related issues playing a prominent role in certain individuals.

Understanding the types of headaches, including sinus variant migraine, and their association with sinusitis and related conditions is crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Proper evaluation by a healthcare provider, including a thorough assessment of sinus symptoms and potential contributing factors, such as Sluder's Syndrome or a deviated septum, can help differentiate sinus-related headaches from other headache types and guide appropriate management strategies.

By addressing sinus issues effectively, individuals experiencing headache symptoms can achieve relief and improve their overall quality of life.