Sinus Headache vs Migraine: Similarities, Differences, Treatments

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Sinus headaches or pressure and migraines are the most common types of headaches. About 50 percent of adults in the United States have at least one type of headache yearly. Both sinus pressure and migraines can be excruciating, causing intense throbbing pain in your forehead or around one eye. They can also be debilitating, making it difficult to concentrate, sleep, or participate in everyday activities. However, these conditions have significant differences that may help you understand how to respond to your pain more effectively. This article highlights the similarities and differences between sinus headache vs migraine so that you know what to expect from triggers, treatments, and self-care options if you experience frequent head pain.

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What is sinus pressure?

Sinus pressure is a common headache caused by an inflammation of the sinus cavity and surrounding tissues (sinus infection). The pain is usually caused by pressing on a nerve in the area of the eyes, nose, or forehead. The pain often comes and goes unpredictably but can be severe when it does occur. In addition, many people experience pressure in their neck, jaw, or head and sensitivity to bright lights and smells. This type of headache only lasts a few hours before subsiding.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a brain disorder that causes severe, throbbing, pounding pain. It’s also known as a “brain fog” or “brain storm” because it affects the senses and cognitive functions. Other symptoms, such as coordination issues and sensitivity to light, can accompany migraines. Men are more likely to suffer migraines than women. Increased sensitivity to stimuli like light and sound usually characterizes migraine. You often experience migraines when you need to be sensitive about your surroundings or workspace.

Migraines are typically unilateral; they are felt on one side of the head only (usually the right) but may affect both sides simultaneously in some instances. The pain associated with migraine headaches is typically throbbing and intense. Still, they can vary in severity depending on how long they last and which specific symptoms you are dealing with. The intensity also varies based on what triggers your migraines–one cause could cause them to seem worse, while another could make them less intense. Migraines can also be categorized into mild, moderate, or severe depending on their degree of severity and length.

What are the symptoms of a sinus headache?

The symptoms of a sinus headache can vary significantly from one person to the next. However, some common symptoms are throbbing pain in your forehead, scalp, or eye; pressure or fullness in your sinuses; and a feeling of pressure deep in your head. Other symptoms may include facial pain, tooth pain, earache, dry eyes, and a runny nose.

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

The symptoms of a migraine attack are similar to other types of headaches: an intense throbbing pain in your forehead or around one eye.

Some common symptoms include:

  • -severe, pulsating pain
  • -mitigating headache attacks (may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound)
  • -nausea
  • -vomiting
  • -loss of appetite
  • -irritability
  • -sleep disturbance
  • Some people may experience blurred vision.

Sinus headache vs migraine: Symptoms

The main difference in the symptoms of sinus headache vs migraine is the severity and duration of the headache you’re feeling. With migraines, it’s common to feel nauseated for more than two days if not treated properly.

You can also experience less tolerance for light and sound and sleep disturbance. However, sinus pressure is generally mild compared to migraines.

Migraine can last from 4 hours to 3 days, while sinus headaches usually last about 10 hours on average.

Another significant difference between sinus tension headaches and migraines is their duration. Sinus pressure typically lasts less than 3 months, while migraines can last months or years!

What Causes Sinus Pressure?

Sinus pressure is caused by an inflammatory response in the nose and sinuses, which can result from several triggers, including allergens and environmental irritants. These headaches are often described as pressure.

Sinus headache vs migraine headaches: Similarities

Both sinus headaches and migraines are a type of headaches. They are also both painful, with intense throbbing pain in the forehead or around one eye that can last for several hours or even days. Sinus pressure can cause you to feel like you have a cold due to blocked sinuses that cause swelling and inflammation in your face.

On the other hand, migraines have a different set of symptoms that may include an aura before the pain starts. The aura may be accompanied by changes in vision, sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, or a feeling of pressure during the headache attack.

What are the differences between sinus pressure and a migraine?

Sinus pressure is caused by inflammation in the sinuses and usually begins on one side of the head. Sinus pressure can be mild to severe and is often described as throbbing. They come on gradually and last for a few hours or until you go for treatment.

Conversely, migraines are typically associated with a unilateral headache that occurs without warning and lasts anywhere from minutes to days. The pain is described as sharp, throbbing, pounding, or tightening, often around one eye.

Each type of headache comes with an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs based on how long the episode lasts. In general, sinus pressure responds well to over-the-counter treatments like ibuprofen, while migraines typically need prescription medications such as triptans for acute relief.

Sinus Headache Vs Migraine

Which is worse, sinus headache vs migraine?

Migraines and sinus pressure can be highly problematic. They both cause intense throbbing pain in the head or around one eye, making it difficult to concentrate, sleep, or participate in everyday activities. However, some critical differences between these conditions may help you understand how to respond to your head pain more effectively.

First, know that sinus pressure is less common than migraines. It accounts for only about 20 percent of all headaches with pain over one eye (known as ocular migraine).

Sinus pressure affects the nasal cavity, whereas migraines affect the brain and surrounding areas. Second, understand that a migraine is said to start with an aura—a “sensory disturbance” that pre-dates headache onset by several minutes to hours. In contrast, sinus pressure begins with a sharp pain in your face or forehead due to an inflamed membrane (sinuses) and can also be preceded by an aura.

Third, know that migraine has three phases:

1) prodrome—symptoms before the onset of headaches such as nausea, fatigue, and hunger;

2) aura— migraine symptoms during headache such as paresthesias (tingling), blind spots, or blurring vision;

3) postdrome—post-headache conditions such as depression and tiredness.

Whereas sinus pressure has two phases.

Why do we misdiagnose migraine as sinus pressure?

Migraine is a neurological condition. It’s a medical diagnosis, and there are several types of migraine, each with its symptoms. For example, sinus pressures happen when the pain occurs in one side of your head and moves to another or the back of your head. They are caused by inflammation or by issues with your sinuses. Sinus pressure can be more challenging to distinguish from migraines because most people experience them occurring around one eye, in the frontal lobe, and near the top of their forehead.

In general, sinus pressure has a dull pain that doesn’t radiate like migraines. If you have a migraine, it’s best to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider before using any self-care remedies on your own.

How do you treat sinus pressure?

If you have a pressure headache, sinus pressure, or migraine, your doctor recommends taking over-the-counter medications to relieve pain. You may also be prescribed a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Some doctors will also recommend prescription medications for sinus pressure. These drugs reduce the inflammation and swelling in the head and neck area where the headaches occur. If these medications are prescribed, you should take them according to the instructions provided by your doctor and at regular intervals so as not to build up a tolerance.

How can I prevent sinus pressure?

When you experience sinus headaches, the leading cause is typically a sinus infection. To prevent sinus headaches and the associated pain, you should avoid triggers that irritate your sinuses and make them more susceptible to inflammation.

How painful is sinus pressure?

Sinus pressures can be excruciating and even debilitating. The sinus pain is usually concentrated at the front of the head, around one eye, or between the eyes. In some cases, it can feel like an almost unbearable pressure. The pain caused by sinus pressure may be similar to migraines, but they are different in that migraines cause throbbing pain on one side of the head. Sinus pressure doesn’t do this.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Unlike migraines, sinus pressures don’t typically cause visual disturbances (like seeing or blind spots). The main contrast between the two conditions is that sinus headache symptoms tend to be triggered by nose-blowing and coughing, and migraines tend to occur without a trigger. 

It depends on your type of pain and how severe it is. You may not need to see a doctor if your pain is mild, such as a headache or neck pain. However, if your pain is more severe, such as around the eyes or face, or if it interferes with your daily activities, you may need to go to the doctor. If the pain is mild or not severe, you can treat it yourself at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These medications can help relieve your pain and make you feel better quickly. However, if the pain is severe or lasts more than 48 hours, you may need to see a doctor.

There are many causes of sinus pressure, and stress is not the only one. Risk factors contributing to the development of sinus pressure include blood pressure changes, allergies, menstrual cycle changes, infection, nasal congestion, nasal inflammation (infected sinus symptoms), nasal dryness, and nasal reflux. Many factors can lead to sinus pressure, and stress is one of them.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible when experiencing either type of headache; both can make you feel worse if consumed too often. You should also rest and avoid stress.

The duration of sinus pressure typically depends on the source of the pain and where in your head it is located. Most are temporary but can last from a few days to several weeks.

Migraines are more severe and can last for days, weeks, or even months. A migraine occurs when blood vessels in your brain become inflamed and sensitive to certain chemicals called hormones.

Sinus headache vs migraine: Treatments

Each type of headache has its treatment options that work best for you. For example, taking pain relievers daily may help ease your symptoms if you suffer from migraines. If you have sinus pressure, it is possible to use over-the-counter pain medications to help relieve your pain and nasal decongestants or saline sprays available at pharmacies.

You should also follow healthy lifestyle habits that may help ease both types of headaches. For example, eating foods high in anti-inflammatory properties, such as omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, can help decrease inflammation and pain while maintaining good neurological function within the brain and nervous system.

Getting enough sleep is also essential for maintaining a good mood and overall health. In addition, it is important to stay active as much as possible. This helps trigger healthy blood flow throughout your body, which eases brain pressure due to congestion or swelling within blood vessels (vasospasm).

When combined with proper dietary choices, physical activity may also assist in reducing chronic inflammation within blood vessels associated with sinus pressure and migraines. Finally, relief from chronic pain can often take time; however, with patience and a positive attitude, you should find some positive results in just a few days!

The content on Doctor Alexa’s blog is reviewed by Advanced practice registered nurses or pharmacist and is intended for educational purposes only. This information should not be relied upon as professional medical counsel. Be sure to always consult with your physician about the dangers and benefits of any medication, treatment or procedure.

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