Sinus Headache (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Sinus headache facts
- What are the sinuses?
- What is a sinus headache?
- What causes a sinus headache?
- What are the symptoms of a sinus headache?
- When should I seek medical care for a sinus headache?
- How is a sinus headache diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for a sinus headache? Do home remedies work?
- What are the complications of a sinus headache?
- Can a sinus headache be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for a sinus headache?
- Find a local Ear, Nose, & Throat Doctor in your town
When should I seek medical care for a sinus headache?
Many people correctly self-diagnose sinusitis and treat themselves at home. Drinking plenty of fluids and humidifying the air is often enough to open the nasal passages and allow the sinuses to drain. This home treatment also may loosen secretions that are already present and promote drainage.
However, medical care may be needed if a fever is present, if there is swelling that can be felt in the face (perhaps signaling an abscess formation), or if the person exhibits a change in behavior or thinking.
Seeking medical care may also be appropriate if the pain does not respond to over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or if symptoms last longer than 10 to 14 days.
How is a sinus headache diagnosed?
The health care professional will likely begin by taking a history of the symptoms to help come to the diagnosis. Contributing factors in the development of sinusitis and headache may include a recent cold or upper respiratory tract infection, history of smoking, environmental allergies to dust or molds, as well as recent airplane travel, swimming or SCUBA diving, or other activities involving air pressure changes within the facial sinuses.
Physical examination may reveal tenderness to percussion, or tapping, over the affected sinus that reproduces the pain. Examination of the ears may reveal a serous otitis, or fluid levels behind the eardrum in the middle ear, that may suggest drainage problems in the face and sinuses. Examination of the nose may reveal swollen nasal passages and discharge. Evaluation of the mouth and teeth may find a source of infection, and the back of the throat may be examined for signs of postnasal drainage.
The health care professional may consider imaging studies of the sinuses to look for fluid collections or thickening of the mucus membranes that line the sinus walls. Limited CT scan of the sinuses is often recommended. Plain X-rays of the sinuses also may be considered. Blood tests tend not to be helpful in making the diagnosis.
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