What is Sinus Headache?

Waking up with a throbbing headache and a tender face isn’t the best way to start your day (personally, we prefer coffee!) but that’s often the unpleasant reality when you’re dealing with a sinus headache. Whether caused by a cold or not, irritated sinuses can trigger symptoms similar to a tension headache, and might come paired with other cold and flu symptoms.

Not surprisingly, you can blame the pain of a sinus headache on something bad happening in your sinuses. That underlying cause is usually a sinus infection (also called sinusitis) and the resulting irritation and swelling. When you’re exposed to irritating triggers, like bacteria or a cold or flu virus, your body responds by mounting an immune response. The delicate tissues that line your sinuses begin to swell, putting pressure on the underlying tissues in your face, leading to that uncomfortable pain you know all-too-well.

The characteristic symptom of a sinus infection is a dull, throbbing pain located at the front of your face. Depending on which sinus cavities are affected, you may notice this pain between your eyes, at the front and side of your head, in your forehead and potentially even in your teeth. The pain may get worse when you lean over or bend down, when you touch your face (especially your cheeks or forehead) and might also feel more severe in chilly, damp weather. If your sinus headache comes from a cold or flu, you’ll have other symptoms, too. Those might include general body aches, fever, coughing, chest congestion and excess mucus.

Step one when fighting a sinus headache is to alleviate your discomfort. Look for medications that contain pain relievers like acetaminophen, which can help dull the ache and relieve the sense of pressure. If your sinus headache stems from an underlying cold or flu, an over-the-counter medication with multi-symptom relief may help. Try one that combines pain relief with a nasal decongestant (like phenylephrine) and expectorant (like guaifenesin) to clear excess mucus.

  • Irrigate your sinuses: Using a neti pot or syringe with salt water may help flush debris from your sinuses to relieve sinus infection symptoms.
  • Breathe in steam or humid air: This may relieve nasal congestion.
  • Apply a warm compress: Resting a warm towel over your sinuses may offer relief.
  • Sip a steamy beverage: Hot beverages may help drain your sinuses.
  • See a doctor: If your symptoms last more than a week, if you experience high fever or your headache feels severe, seek medical attention to rule out another underlying cause.