Sinus Headache: Signs and Symptoms

Click on Photo to go to the Mayo Clinic Website for more information.

Click on Photo to go to the Mayo Clinic Website for more information.



Sinusitis occurs when there is an inflammation of one or more of the paranasal sinuses, the hollow cavities within the cheek bones found around the eyes and behind the nose. The primary function of the sinuses is to warm, moisten and filter the air in the nasal cavity.

Sinusitis is very common in the winter and can last for months or years if inadequately treated. It can affect the nose, eyes, or middle ear. Symptoms of sinusitis include some or all of the following:

• Thick yellow-green nasal discharge
• Bad-tasting post-nasal drip
• Cough
• Head congestion and an accompanying headache
• Feeling of facial swelling
• Toothache
• Constant tiredness
• Occasional fever

Sinusitis can be divided into acute, subacute, chronic and recurrent. The classifications are based on length of symptoms, or the specific sinus involved, or both. The classification is as follows:Acute sinusitis: symptoms for less than 4 weeks consisting of some or all of the following: persistent symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, purulent rhinorrhea, postnasal drainage, anosmia, nasal congestion, facial pain, headache, fever, cough, and purulent discharge.

Subacute sinusitis: symptoms from 4-8 weeks.
Chronic sinusitis: symptoms for eight weeks or longer of varying severity consisting of the same symptoms as seen in acute sinusitis. In chronic sinusitis there should be abnormal findings on CT or MRI. Some patients with chronic sinusitis might present with vague or insidious symptoms.
Recurrent sinusitis: three or more episodes of acute sinusitis per year. Patients with recurrent sinusitis might be infected by different organisms at different times.

Although colds are the most common cause of acute sinusitis, it is more likely that people with other allergic diseases such as allergies or asthma, will develop sinusitis. Allergies can trigger inflammation of the sinuses and nasal mucous linings. This inflammation prevents the sinus cavities from clearing out bacteria, and increases your chances of developing sinusitis. The incidence of sinusitis in asthma patients ranges from 40%-75% as well.

If you test positive for allergic disease, your allergist/immunologist should be able to suggest the appropriate treatments to control your symptoms, and thus reducing the risk of developing an infection. People with sinus problems should avoid environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke and strong chemical odors, which may increase symptoms.

Another cause of sinusitis is structural problems in the nose – such as narrow drainage passages, tumors or polyps, or a deviated nasal septum (the bone and cartilage between the left and right sides of the nose) – may be another cause of sinusitis. Surgery is sometimes needed to correct these problems, but only after all other medical treatments have failed.


Sinusitis generally requires a combination of therapies. Allergist/immunologists should withhold from prescribing antibiotics for 10-14 days, unless severe symptoms develop such as fever, facial pain or tenderness, or swelling around the eye. An allergist/immunologist may also prescribe a medication to reduce blockage or to control allergies to help keep the sinus passages open. This medicine may be a decongestant, a mucus-thinning medicine or a cortisone nasal spray. Antihistamines, cromolyn and topical steroid nasal sprays help control allergic inflammation. Other treatments that can be helpful to control and reduce symptoms of sinusitis include, breathing in hot, moist air, applying hot packs, and washing the nasal cavities with salt water.

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