Let's Talk About Pain Blog

Migraine or Sinus Headache?

 Although I'm always eager to leave the cold months of winter, spring does not excite me. The growing warmth of the days also means a lot of wind. 

 And in New Mexico, March winds do not bring April showers. April means more wind. And wind makes my allergies worse. Like a lot of you, I get sinus pain.

Sinus pain includes facial pain and pressure, congestion, and sometimes, headache. But sinus headaches are a lot more unusual than most people think. In fact, migraine are often commonly misdiagnosed as sinus pain. 

A study of over 30,000 participants found that over 88 percent of self-diagnosed sinus headaches were really migraines. A substantial number of these patients claimed to have never experienced a migraine.

So that means that there are a lot of you out there experiencing migraines that you are treating as sinus headaches. In fact, sinus headaches are rare and usually secondary to a bacterial infection. 

How do you tell the difference?

If you headache originates in your sinuses, you will have some or all of the following symptoms:

thick, discolored nasal discharge,

facial pain or pressure

fever

decreased smell or no smell

foul smelling breath

Migraine symptoms may include some symptoms commonly associated with a sinus headache, such as nasal congestion or watery eyes. They may also include the following: 

Nausea

sensitivity to light and/or noise

moderate to severe headaches

headache worsened by activity

pulsing throbbing pain

vision disturbances

How do you differentiate between the two?  Ask yourself the following questions from the ID Migraine Questionnaire:

1. In the last 3 months, how disabling are your headaches; do they interfere with your ability to function? 

2. Are your headaches every associated with nausea?

3. Are your headaches ever associated with sensitivity to light?

If you answer yes to two of the above questions, there is a 93% probability that you have a migraine. If you answer affirmatively to all three, then you are 98% percent likely to have a migraine. 

If you are experiencing symptoms more commonly associated with migraine pain than sinus pain. Talk to your doctor. Don't try to treat your headache with over-the-counter sinus pain medications. It won't help.

In the meantime, April winds do bring May flowers. We just have to wait. (sigh). 

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