Sinus headaches

If you or a family member has a sinus headache, it means your sinuses (the mucous membranes of your nose) have become swollen or clogged.


Your sinuses are lined with a membrane – similar to that on the inside of your nose – which keeps them moist and produces mucous.

When germs settle and grow on this surface, the surface swells and begins to produce too much mucous. It's the pressure from the swelling inside your sinuses that causes the headache.

Your sinuses are hollow spaces in your skull bone, above and between your eyes and behind your cheeks.
  • Most sinus problems follow a cold or a sore throat.
  • Some occur after a dental infection.
  • Sometimes hay fever or irritation from dust or smoke will cause the swelling.

If you have a sinus infection and it isn't treated, your sinuses will become more and more clogged. The excess mucous gives the germs a good place to multiply. These germs could be viruses, bacteria or even fungi.


If you have a sinus headache, the pain will be in your face and forehead – and sometimes behind or between your eyes.

  • It can be dull or severe.
  • Often the pain is worse in the morning and improves by the afternoon.
  • The pain may be worse when you bend your head forward.
  • It can feel worse on cool, damp days.

You may have a fever with a sinus infection.

Other signs are mucous coming out of your nose that is an unusual colour (red, yellow or green) or that smells foul.


Self care

Treatment of a sinus headache involves helping your sinuses drain and treating any infection.

  • Inhaling steam or mist from a hot shower, or putting moisture in the air with a vaporizer, often relieves the clogging.
  • You can get nasal sprays or pills that unclog sinuses (called 'nasal decongestants') from a pharmacy. The sprays usually work better than the pills. Don't use the sprays for more than three days at a time.
  • Smokers should stop smoking and avoid other people's smoke, and other irritants in the air.
  • Try not to lean over, and use an extra pillow to raise your head in bed to relieve pressure.

Warm compresses to your face may relieve pain. You can get painkillers from a pharmacy – but make sure you read the instructions and precautions carefully.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if:

  • your sinus pain doesn’t go away after self care, or if it gets worse.
  • you have sinus pain and a fever, or foul-smelling mucous from your nose.
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