Sinus headaches are an uncommon type of headaches caused by inflamed sinuses (sinusitis). They are manifested as a dull, throbbing pain in the upper face.

Many people assume they have a sinus headache, when in fact it is much more likely to be either a migrene or tension-type headaches.


A sinus headache is a constant, throbbing pain felt in the face (around the eyes, cheeks and forehead), usually only on one side. It tends to be worst in the morning and may get better by the afternoon.

The pain may get worse when the person moves his/her head, strain or bend down, and when they experience extreme changes in temperature. It can also spread to the teeth, upper jaw and other parts of the head.

The patient’s face may feel swollen and tender to the touch, and will also have other symptoms of sinusitis, such as green or yellow mucus discharge from the nose and a high temperature.


The sinuses are small air spaces in the skull, found behind the nose, eyes and cheeks. They open out into the nose, allowing mucus to drain and air to circulate normally.

When the lining of the nose and upper airways becomes infected,  for example, with a cold, the infection can spread to the sinuses and cause them to become swollen. The small opening from the sinuses to the nose can become blocked, which leads to a build-up of pressure inside the sinuses. This is known as sinusitis.

Sinusitis and sinus headaches can last much longer. This usually only happens if bacteria infect the trapped mucus, or your sinuses repeatedly swell up because of an allergy.

Risk Factors

Sinusitis can affect anyone and people may be more likely to develop chronic sinusitis if they have asthma, nasal growths (polyps), allergies to dust, mold or pollen, a weak immune system, exposure to pollutants, such as airborne chemicals, condition that affects the way mucus moves within the respiratory system, such as cystic fibrosis, and exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke.


Complications of a sinus infection (sinusitis) are rare; however, if left untreated a sinus infection may erode through the bony walls of the sinus and infect other structures in the face. Three potential areas for spread of the infection include:

  • The orbit (eye socket), causing pain, swelling, and redness of the eyelid and skin surrounding the orbit.
  • The brain, causing symptoms of meningitis or encephalitis.
  • The blood vessels that run near the sinuses can develop inflammation and blood clots.


Sinus headaches are a result of  inflammation of the sinuses and their ability to drain to the back of the nose. Avoiding smoking and being in the vicinity of smokers, and other allergens may decrease the risk of developing sinusitis and the headache associated with it.

Avoiding colds and other respiratory infections may decrease the risk of sinus inflammation. This may include frequent hand washing and avoiding people who are ill. Flying is not necessarily recommended when a patient is ill with an upper respiratory tract infection or cold.