In this article:
Sinuses are cavities or pockets in the facial bones of the skull. They are responsible for humidifying and filtering the air along with contributing to the strength and stability of the skull. A buildup of pressure and inflammation in the sinuses results in sinus headache.
Sinus headaches are usually not a sign of any serious or life-threatening condition, and quite a few people suffer from these headaches at some point in life. The best way to treat these headaches often depends on what is causing them.
Causes of a Sinus Headache
The primary cause of a sinus headache is inflammation of the tissues that line the sinuses. The inflammation of sinuses is known as sinusitis. When the mucous membranes become inflamed and do not secrete mucus properly, buildup of pressure occurs, leading to headaches. (1)
This type of inflammation can occur due to the following:
- Sinus infection
- Infection in the upper tooth
- Nasal polyps
- Tumor – benign or malignant (a rare cause)
Signs and Symptoms of a Sinus Headache
Symptoms of sinus headaches include the following: (2)
- Pressure and tenderness behind your forehead, in the cheeks, or around the eyes.
- Mild-to-severe pain that can be unilateral (on one side) or bilateral (on both sides).
- The headaches can worsen when bending forward and are more intense early in the morning.
- The headaches are accompanied by several symptoms, including a stuffy nose, fatigue, an achy feeling in the upper teeth, fullness in ears, mild-to-moderate fever, and a sense of not feeling well.
Natural Treatment Options to Deal With a Sinus Headache
Here are some ways to get rid of a sinus headache.
1. Use a saline nasal irrigation
Using a saline solution for nasal irrigation is an effective way to reduce nasal pressure. A saline solution will thin the mucus and flush it from the nasal passages. (3)(4) It helps keep your mucous membranes moist.
How to use:
- Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sea salt in 2 cups of warm water. Use distilled or previously boiled water.
- Fill a neti pot with 1 cup of the solution.
- Stand over a sink and place the tip of the spout into one nostril.
- Tilt your head to the side and allow the water to run out through the other nostril.
- Repeat the process with the other nostril.
- Do this 2–3 times a week.
2. Increase your fluid intake
When suffering from a sinus headache, be sure to drink plenty of fluids. This can help thin the mucus in your sinuses, making it easier to drain. Once the body gets rid of the mucus, your headache will vanish away quickly.
Drinking enough fluid will also help with overall hydration. Check the color of your urine to determine if you are properly hydrated. Colorless urine is an indication of good hydration.
Along with water, drinking warm fluids will also help. Drinking warm fluids increases the nasal mucus velocity partially or completely with nasal inhalation of water vapor. Warm chicken soup has been known to increase the nasal mucus velocity. Also, warm liquid is better than cold liquid in managing upper respiratory tract infections. (5)
Enjoy a hot cup of herbal tea or drink broth to help thin the mucus accumulation in the nasal passages. Additionally, warm soups and lemonades can help clear up the mucus.
3. Start humming
You can try humming for one hour to improve sinus pain and headache. It may sound strange, but humming can keep your sinuses clear and may prevent a sinus infection.
A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reports that humming increases the amount of nasal nitric oxide inhaled, which improves ventilation in the sinuses. Proper ventilation is vital to keeping the nasal cavity healthy and free from inflammation. (6)
Another study published in Medical Hypotheses in 2006 reports that strong humming for one hour daily can lead to stimulation of endogenous nasal nitric oxide production. (7)
The next time you experience a severe headache, hum a happy tune to get rid of the pain.
4. Use peppermint oil
Peppermint oil contains menthol, which can help relieve sinus congestion. It has strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that may alleviate the discomfort of your sinus headache. (8)
How to use:
- Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to hot water and inhale the steam. Repeat the process a few times until you get complete relief.
- Dilute a few drops of peppermint oil with some carrier oil, such as almond and jojoba oil. Rub this gently on the affected areas – around the nose, forehead, temples, and cheeks.
Alternatively, for even better results, massage the sinus region after applying diluted peppermint oil. It is believed that massaging the sinus regions can reduce inflammation. A massage will help stimulate the blocked sinuses so they can drain properly, which will reduce the discomfort.
- Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to 2 tablespoons of warm olive oil.
- Apply the oil on your forehead and nose.
- Use your index finger and thumb to apply gentle pressure on the sinus regions (forehead, bridge of the nose, and cheekbones).
- Continue massaging for 10 minutes.
- Repeat 2–3 times a day until symptoms have improved.
Although there are no scientific studies to prove the efficacy of the following remedies in getting rid of sinus headaches, the following lifestyle changes along with medication and rest have been found to be highly beneficial by many users as they help reduce the congestion in your sinuses.
5. Inhale steam
Steam is an effective way to treat a sinus headache due to chronic sinusitis (9) at home. Steam inhalation will soothe your mucous membranes and help clear the congestion in your nose. This will reduce the sinus pressure and alleviate your headache.
How to use:
- Boil some water in a pan.
- Add a few drops of essential oil (optional).
- Cover your head with a towel and lean forward over the bowl or pan containing the hot water.
- Inhale the steam as many times as possible.
- Repeat this treatment every 2 hours as needed for relief.
A steam bath will produce similar benefits.
Caution: Avoid administering steam inhalation in children as it has shown adverse effects. (10)
6. Use a humidifier
You need to breathe moist air to combat a sinus headache. Dry air can irritate the inflamed nasal passages even more, whereas moist air will thin the mucus and reduce blockage. This will ease the pain.
To moisten the air, using a humidifier is a good option.
How to use:
- Purchase a humidifier and use it in your bedroom while you sleep, as most people experience increased sinus pressure at night.
- Alternatively, placing a bowl of hot water on your bedroom floor can increase the moisture in the air. Be sure to place it in a safe place where you won’t accidentally trip it over or step into it.
Preventing a Sinus Headache
Sinus headaches can be prevented with the help of the following steps:
- Practice good hygiene and hand washing techniques to prevent cold and upper respiratory infections.
- Avoid known allergens that cause sinus or nasal congestion. By avoiding the triggers, you can not only get rid of your headache faster, but you can also prevent future problems from occurring.
- Avoid possible irritants: chewing snuff, smoking cigarettes, a room full of smoke, strong perfumes, etc.
- Limit how much alcohol you drink, as it may lead to swelling of the sinus and nasal tissues.
- Stay out of a polluted air environment as much as possible and refrain from places where there is a lot of dust.
- Avoid excessive use of electronics, and limit your sun exposure. The glare from the screen of gadgets and the rays of the sun can increase sinus pain.
Additional Tips to Manage and Prevent Sinus Headaches
- While sleeping, elevate your head by using extra pillows.
- Follow a regular sleep pattern and eat your meals at fixed times. Try to control stress in your life.
- Regular aerobic exercise helps reduce tension and can help prevent headaches.
- Relax and get plenty of rest.
- Eat foods that will boost your immunity: lemons, oranges, bell peppers, kiwi, pineapple, broccoli, strawberries, gooseberries, and pomegranate are excellent choices.
- Keep your home free of dust mites and other allergens.
Risk Factors Associated With a Sinus Headache
Sinus headaches can affect anyone, but some people are more vulnerable to them. (11) Common risk factors include the following:
- Previous history of migraines or headaches (either you or anyone in your family)
- Hormonal changes associated with headaches
When to See a Doctor
Treating and preventing a sinus headache is straightforward. The treatment goal for a sinus headache is mainly two-fold. First, steps need to be taken to reduce the inflammation within the sinuses and to help them drain. Secondly, steps are taken to ease discomfort and pain while treating the underlying problem.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Daniel Manrique, MD (Otorhinolaryngologist & Facial Plastic Surgeon)
The duration of a sinus headache depends on whether it is acute or chronic. It usually takes 6–8 weeks to disappear or decrease in intensity.
The fastest way to relieve the pressure in the face and forehead is with analgesic, anti-inflammatory and decongestant pills and nasal spray and drops. It is very important to visit an ENT doctor to evaluate the situation of sinus before taking any other course of treatment or starting antibiotics treatment.
Yes, decongestants are very important to fight the nasal mucosa and increase the air flow and relieve sinus pressure.
It is very easy to know if the headache is because of migraine or sinusitis. Migraine’s origin is global, associated with nausea or vomiting, light intolerance, and usually, is associated with nervous tension.
The sinus headache is characterized by facial and head pressure with symptoms of flu, anterior or posterior nasal drooping hyaline or mucopurulent with tooth pain or fever in few cases.
Eucalyptus, mint, melaleuca, laurel oils, can be used as a decongestant. They help to breathe better and clear nasal passage.
The most important point to note is that when anybody is suffering from a headache, try to identify the underlying cause. If the headache is a sinus headache, identify the triggers to determine why it started; maybe it was an allergic reaction or some infection. Try to visit an ENT doctor to correctly diagnose the headache and start a treatment plan.
While at home, use diffuser oil and steam to minimize the pain and take any analgesic, but visit a specialist if the symptoms do not start to improve.