Allergies, infections, and the common cold can all cause swelling and pressure to build up in the sinus cavity that can lead to what is sometimes called a “sinus headache.” This inflammation is called sinusitis, and it can cause persistent head pain under the eyes and at the cheekbone, sometimes extending down into the top half of the mouth. Sinus headache may be one-sided or occur on both sides of the face. The sinus may also be obstructed by pus or mucus, causing further pressure and pain.
Head pain associated with these conditions can be severe, but fortunately, severe head pain should not accompany the most common forms of upper airway congestion. Nonetheless, common misconceptions about the nature of these conditions by headache sufferers and physicians alike often lead to the misdiagnosis of migraine as sinusitis.
In the short term, a sinus headache can be relieved with over-the-counter analgesic drugs (Tylenol, Aleve, Motrin), but if an infection is present, it should be treated with antibiotics. Sinusitis caused by allergies may require an antihistamine. A decongestant can help relieve sinus pressure, and moist air from a warm shower, vaporizer, or humidifier can help clear sinus cavities.
To relieve sinus headache pain, the American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends alternating hot and cold compresses on the sinus area of the face. The hot compress should be applied for three minutes, followed by twenty seconds for the cold compress. This procedure should be repeated three times per treatment, two to six times daily.
Sometimes, a structural problem within the sinus and/or nasal cavities can cause pressure and head pain. These may include:
Malformations of the turbinate bones of the nasal cavity
Polyps obstructing the sinuses
In these cases, surgery may be required to resolve the symptoms.