What are Sinuses?
Your sinuses are the hollow spaces found behind your forehead, cheeks and nose. They are named according the area of the face they are located; the frontal sinuses are located in the forehead, the maxillary sinuses are located behind your cheeks, the sphenoid sinuses are located just behind your eyes and the ethmoid sinuses are located behind your nose. They form a network of cavities that allows air-flow and the drainage of mucous that helps to prevent infections and the introduction of pathogens into the body .
Your sinuses can often get inflamed as a result of allergic reactions or infection. This inflammation can cause increased mucous production in your sinuses, resulting in painful blockages. The pain can be felt in the forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks or even teeth.
What is Sinus Headache?
Sinus Headache is experienced in the sinus and nose area. This type of headache is bilateral in nature, where symptoms are felt on both sides of the sinuses/nose.
Sinusitis vs Migraine
The location of pain experienced in a sinus headache can be similar to that experienced in a migraine. In sufferers of sinus headache, they will generally also experience; runny nose or congestion during their headache, watery eyes during their headache or increased pressure in or around their sinuses .
What is the cause of Sinus Headache?
The common belief is that Sinus Headaches are caused by respiratory infections like a cold or flu, or allergies such as hay-fever. An infection inside the sinus results in headache and migraine-like pain. When an allergen, such as dust or pollen, enters the body, the naval cavity and sinuses sense this as a threat or pathogen. This threat is detected by the trigeminal nerve, passing that information on to ‘superior salivatory nucleus’, which proceeds to fill the sinus with excess mucous, so that the pathogen or allergen is removed out the nose or digested when swallowed. The pressure that can develop is what is experienced as a headache or migraine .
In the patients that we see with sinus headaches, they are found to have dysfunction in the upper cervical spine, resulting in a sensitised brainstem, that we can use to reproduce their headaches. Those that have this sensitised brainstem will also have an over-sensitive trigeminal nerve. Activity that was previously not perceived as a threat by the trigeminal nerve is now triggering sinusitis. This over-reaction can now cause subsequent infection due to the increase in bacteria-dense mucous in the sinuses and nasal cavity. Frome here, frequent and recurrent sinus headaches can be triggered .
Incorporating some lifestyle changes may help you with preventing sinus headaches. These may include:
- Physical activity has been shown to improve general well-being and quality of life. With the correct training, exercises can improve muscular endurance and/or strength. You could try to add in simple exercises daily to improve your function.
- Avoiding Triggers
- Try to avoid certain foods, smells, environments and/or activities that have triggered your headaches in the past.
- Reducing stress
- Having stress in our lives can often cause muscular tension, typically along the neck and shoulder muscles. This can play a role in headaches. Finding relaxation strategies such as breathing techniques and/or doing things you enjoy doing are good ways of reducing stress.
I’ve tried it all, is there anything else that can help?
Many of our patients have tried everything available to them in attempts to treat their sinus headaches. These include; painkillers, decongestants, anti-histamines, air humidifiers, nasal rinsing or even sinus surgery. Despite these continued attempts, they still suffer from their sinus headaches. For these patients, at The Headache and Migraine Clinic, we specialise in assessing the role of the upper cervical spine and the sensitised brainstem, as being the root cause of these headaches.
If we can assess and determine that, in fact, the upper cervical spine and the sensitised brainstem are the root cause, then treatment can start right away. We use safe, gentle techniques that are non-invasive and medication-free. We expect to see results rapidly, within the first 5-6 treatment sessions, as we do with 85-90% of our patients. At The Headache and Migraine Clinic, we aren’t in the business of giving false hope, if we find that the brainstem and upper cervical spine aren’t a cause of your headaches, we will unfortunately not be able to help you but will let you know in session one and refer you on to a practitioner who can.