Sinus Headache

  • Medical Author:
    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.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    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.

View 10 Common Allergy Triggers Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideSinusitis Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Sinusitis Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

What are the complications of a sinus headache?

Complications of a sinus infection (sinusitis) are rare; however, if left untreated a sinus infection may erode through the bony walls of the sinus and infect adjacent structures in the face. Two potential areas for spread of the infection include:

  • The orbit (eye socket), causing pain, swelling, and redness of the eyelid and skin surrounding the orbit. There can also be pain with any eye motion. Decreased vision may develop.
  • The brain, causing symptoms of meningitis or encephalitis.
  • The blood vessels that run near the sinuses can develop inflammation and blood may clot (thrombus). Cavernous sinus thrombosis describes the inflammation and clotting of the cavernous sinus, a collection of small veins located near the sphenoid sinus, that can potentially become infected and form blood clots.

Can a sinus headache be prevented?

Sinus headaches are due to inflammation of the sinuses and their ability to drain to the back of the nose. Avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke and other allergens may decrease the risk of developing sinusitis and the headache associated with it. Smoking reduces the ability of the sinuses to clear mucous and fluid.

Similarly, avoiding colds and other respiratory infections may decrease the risk of sinus inflammation. This may include frequent hand washing and avoiding people who are ill. Because of the pressure changes in the face that occur with flying, it is not necessarily recommended when a patient is ill with an upper respiratory tract infection or cold.

Maintaining adequate hydration and breathing humidified air at home and work will allow the normal mucus that is produced in the sinuses to drain more easily.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015
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