News & Research

Sinus Headaches May Acutally Be Migraine

Throbbing and tenderness in your nose, cheeks and/or eyebrows seem to be clear indicators of a sinus headache. Most likely they aren’t. 90% of what patients think are sinus headaches are actually untreated migraines.

[Headache specialist Eric] Eross and colleagues advertised a free evaluation to people suffering from “sinus headaches.” They signed up the first 100 people, and gave them a rigorous 1.5-hour evaluation. It turned out 90 of the 100 patients were really suffering from migraines.

Sinus headaches do exist, but they are much rarer than people believe.

If you have an active sinus infection, your head hurts. Typical symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a green or yellow nasal discharge. But most people who think they have sinus headaches don’t have these symptoms — just pain high in their cheeks. They likely have migraines, Eross says.

Following the study, about half the participants who thought they had sinus headaches became Dr. Eross’s patients. Most of them improved dramatically with migraine treatment.

Sinus headache was one of my early self-diagnoses. I can’t tell you how many allergists, ENTs and ENT surgeons I saw. I underwent numerous tests and scans and tried meds and allergy shots, but nothing showed that I had sinus headaches. That didn’t stop me from having nasal surgery for my headaches, which was completely ineffective.

My migraines don’t fit the symptoms of what most people think of as migraine: I didn’t have a visual aura, one-sided pain, nausea or sensitivity to light. Turns out that this describes “classic migraine” (or migraine with aura) which about 40% of people with migraine have symptoms of. Much more common is migraine without aura, often called “common migraine.”

Because of this, getting the right diagnosis was difficult for me. My experience makes me want to tell everyone who has “sinus headaches” that they could have another kind of headache disorder. Since this is my blog, I will. Please consider that your headaches aren’t sinus-related.

6 thoughts on “Sinus Headaches May Acutally Be Migraine”

  1. Everyday for the last 2 years I have something that always includes tender to the touch on the top of my head, forehead feels hot, behind eyes feels hot, inside my nose feels hot, and my throat feels hot. No fever at all.
    I have had xrays and mri’s of my head that showed nothing unusual.

  2. Kerrie,
    I’ve suffered from severe to acute allergies all my life and was a victim of too many medications, 35 years of allergy shots and finally a year of antibiotics daily for infections. I have had migraines on and off previous to this surgery with and w/out aura. I have had sinus headaches as well. Some thought to be related to sinuses and some not. I had sinus surgery two years ago January and have been antibiotic free however; what I thought was sinus headaches post surgery are surely migraines. I have experienced these about twice a week since the surgery. I am off all prescriptions YAY! I’ll admit to Afrin at night and Sudafed by day to survive.
    So I guess I’m writing because you are giving good advice here and I hope the dialogue continues because it can be immobilizing and depressing to some not sure what bucket their pain falls into and where to go to treat it. At this very moment, I’m working at a computer formatting a 15 language document into a book…. with my sunglasses on. Good Luck to everyone!
    Karen Myers

  3. Kerrie,
    Thank goodness I’m not crazy. I’ve been battling the same exact thing for 20 years. Just this week I’ve concluded that I have sinus migraines. What are you doing for treatment? Thanks so much for posting this blog.

  4. As my neurologist explained this phenomenon to me… my allergies ARE real, and they trigger my migraines, which is why my migraines appear to be seasonal and appear to fit the sinus headache category, aong with the fact that they are in the cheeks, forehead, etc. It’s almost the chicken and egg thing, quite complicated but it sure is comforting to know there are finally medications that can help!

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Kerrie! I have had “sinus headaches” – often seasonally and therefore thought to be allergy-related – for years. Once or twice, those headaches evolved into what I can only imagine was a migraine…Now I’ll consider other triggers when my forehead/eyes/upper cheeks hurt.

    Might make sense considering your sister’s recent diagnosis.


  6. This fits me exactly. Thanks for posting it & for your site, I will be printing it up to share with people and for my files.

    I’m so glad it was helpful! I hope you find some relief soon.

    Take care,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *