The Difference Between a Migraine and a Sinus Headache


December 28, 2020


The Difference Between a Migraine and a Sinus Headache

You find yourself in bed in the dark, having the worst headache of your life. Naturally, you want to know what’s causing this pain so that you may resolve it. Migraines and sinus headaches are similar in that they can both cause severe pain and pressure around the face and head, but their divergent causes lead to different treatment approaches. This guide should help you tell the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache so that you can treat your symptoms correctly.


Different Etiologies

Though both roads take you to the same place in terms of debilitating pain, sinus headaches and migraines have different causes. A sinus headache is caused by the inflammation of the sinus cavities, which fill with mucus during an infection and put pressure on the rest of the face and head. This condition is known as sinusitis. While the root cause of a sinus headache is clear, doctors have yet to reach a consensus on the mechanisms behind a migraine. Some believe that the affliction is neurovascular in nature, relating to the tightening of blood vessels that supply the brain, while others believe it is a purely neurological condition arising from heightened brain activity.


Check Your Nose

Your mucus can tell you a lot about what kinds of battles your body is facing, and headaches are no exception. If your headache is the result of sinus pressure, you’ll surely find that your mucus is thick and yellow, indicating that your body is trying to flush pathogens from the sinus passages. Nasal discharge accompanies migraines as well, but if your mucus is thin and clear, denoting normal mucous output, then it’s not an infection but a migraine that is causing your pain.



While suffering from sinusitis certainly has you feeling less than 100 percent, such severe reactions as nausea and vomiting are not likely to be part of a major sinus infection. They are, however, likely to be part of a migraine, where your brain will often react to this neural disruption by sending you to vomit. Antiemetic medication is often a first-line treatment for migraines, while it should not be necessary for a sinus infection.


Sensory Sensitivity

The most distinguishing difference between a migraine and a sinus headache is the heightened sensitivity to light and sound that attends a migraine. While distracting stimuli are no fun for anyone in pain, migraine sufferers will often find that they cannot tolerate any sensory stimulation whatsoever. Normal light can feel blinding, otherwise imperceptible background noises like refrigerators and fluorescent lights become unbearable, and even familiar tastes and scents may seem repulsive.

Going Forward

If your terrible headaches come with thick mucus but no nausea, and send you to bed without reaching to unplug anything that makes a sound, your headaches are likely the result of chronic sinus infections. For Texans suffering from severe headaches, a sinus specialist in the Houston area—namely, Allergy & ENT Associates—may help you resolve the headaches arising from chronic sinusitis.

This entry was posted in Blog on December 28, 2020 by AENT Team.

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