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Is It A Migraine Or A Sinus Headache?

Published: 09/03/2012
sinus headache

It is most likely a migraine, or sinusitis, a condition in which the air pockets around the nose become inflamed or infected. It may surprise you that the term sinus headache is not actually a medical diagnosis at all, explains Mark Green, MD, professor of neurology, anesthesiology, and rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, who is also director of headache and pain medicine there.

Instead, says Green, the term sinus headache is more of a concept that was created by the makers of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs marketed to treat them, such as certain painkillers and decongestants. Because both of these types of medications shrink the blood vessels, says Green, when people respond to the treatments, it can be easy for them to leap to the conclusion that what struck them was indeed a sinus headache.

Outside of the U.S., points out Green, the term sinus headache is almost never used; and, he adds, these so-called sinus headaches are not recognized by the International Headache Society. It’s the use of this term, sinus headache, says Green, that, to some degree, has been responsible for an overuse of antibiotics, a public health problem that can lead to the development of resistant bacteria, is needlessly costly, and is particularly problematic in the U.S.

What may be at play in the body if and when a person experiences symptoms such as a colored drainage from the nose, a feeling of tenderness over the sinuses (or the air pockets in bones around the nose), and fever, is sinusitis. This condition occurs when your sinuses become inflamed or infected. Even sinusitis, though, does not recur in most people, says Green.

Edging out in likeliness over sinusitis is that you are experiencing a migraine. There are several lesser-known symptoms that can occur with migraine, which may commonly, and mistakenly, be linked to sinus headache. These include nasal congestion and eye tearing. Also, bad weather can trigger migraines, which may not be widely known. If you experience throbbing head-banger headaches, especially those that worsen with periods, are triggered by missing a meal or drinking alcohol, or are accompanied by light or sound sensitivity and/or nausea, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine whether migraines are afoot.

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