Under Pressure- Sinus Pain & Headaches

Illness Series: Sinus PainSinus headaches are the result of pressure built up in the sinus cavity due to inflammation. Sinuses are air filled cavities around your eyes, nose, and cheeks. Sinus headaches cause a dull, deep, throbbing pain in the front of your head and face. Bending down or leaning over generally makes the pain worse. Cold and damp weather may also trigger sinus headaches. Sinus headaches often begin as soon as you get up in the morning, and may be better by afternoon.

The most common causes of frequent sinus headaches are chronic sinus infections (sinusitis), allergies, nasal polyps, or a deviated septum.  Chronic sinusitis is defined as a sinus infection that lasts for more than 12 weeks, but it can last much longer.

Seasonal allergies can also cause frequent sinus headaches. When your body is allergic to a particular substance, such as pollen, it releases high levels of histamine and antibodies to ward off the allergen. A common result of higher histamine levels in the body is nasal congestion, which leads to a sinus headache.

Nasal polyps are small growths in the sinus cavity that end up blocking the airflow and proper drainage through the nose. Anyone can develop nasal polyps, but they are commonly found in adults suffering from allergies or asthma. Children with cystic fibrosis are more prone to develop nasal polyps as well.

A deviated septum is a condition in which the wall that separates the nostrils is crooked. This condition develops during normal human growth or can be the result of a facial injury. A deviated septum may lead to a higher risk of sinus infection and sleep problems like snoring.

Proper diagnosis is important so be sure to consult your doctor if any of these conditions are present:

  • Sudden and severe headache that persists or increases in intensity over 24 hours
  • Chronic or severe headaches that begin after age 50
  • Headaches accompanied by memory loss, confusion, loss of balance, change in speech or vision, or loss of strength in or numbness or tingling in any one of your limbs
  • Headaches accompanied by fever, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting
  • Severe headache in one eye, accompanied by redness of the eye

Healthy sinuses allow mucus to drain and air to circulate throughout the nasal passages. When sinuses become inflamed, these areas get blocked and mucus cannot drain. When sinuses are blocked, they provide a place for bacteria, viruses, and fungus to live and grow rapidly. Although a cold is most often the culprit, sinusitis can be caused by anything that prevents the sinuses from draining.

The best way to avoid or get rid of a sinus headache is to treat the underlying sinus inflammation. Lifestyle changes, such as using a humidifier or irrigating your nasal passages with salt water, may also help. Several dietary supplements and herbs may help prevent colds and flu or shorten their duration. Other techniques that might help include stretches for the head and neck and relaxation techniques. Remember to nourish your immune system, your body will thank you!

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