Distinguishing Sinus Headache from Migraine

Although a 2008 NHF web survey determined that 23% of respondents claim to suffer from sinus headache, research concludes that that “stuffy nose and dull head pain” should may actually be migraine or another form of vascular headache.


A large majority of sinus headache sufferers actually experience some form of a vascular headache. The enlargement of blood vessels typically causes vascular headaches, which include migraines, cluster headaches, and toxic headaches.  Typically, the sufferer feels throbbing head pain that is intensified by physical exertion.
If a sinus infection causes a headache, the sufferer will feel pain and tenderness over the affected sinus and a deep dull ache that is exaggerated by head movements. Other typical symptoms of a sinus headache include:


  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Ear sensations or ringing
  • Facial swelling

However, vascular headaches, such as migraines, can cause similar symptoms in sufferers. According to headache expert Dr. Philip Bain, “In one large study of patients who met criteria for migraine, 84% had sinus pressure, 82% had sinus pain, 63% had nasal congestion, and 40% had runny nose symptoms often attributed to sinus infections.” (Read the rest of Dr. Bain’s case study from NHF Head Lines: “Ask the Expert: Sinus Headaches or Migraine”).


Talking to your physician to determine whether you are suffering from a sinus or vascular headache is crucial to get relief. Sometimes if a patient takes a decongestant medicine for a misdiagnosed sinus infection, head pain actually can increase.


[...] Physician Finder

[...] Physician Finder Results [...]

[...] National Headache

[...] National Headache Foundation » Blog Archive » Distinguishing Sinus … [...]

[...] National Headache

[...] National Headache Foundation » Blog Archive » Distinguishing Sinus … [...]

[...] National Headache

[...] National Headache Foundation » Blog Archive » Distinguishing Sinus … [...]

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Give the gift of
pain relief

Your donation goes to work immediately, helping the NHF in our continuing effort to educate and fund valuable headache research.

Donate Now

Stay Connected


"Every time I meet someone who suffers from headaches, I tell them they need to subscribe to the NHF Newsletter. Knowledge is key to recovery, even when migraines are so difficult to overcome."

Samira B.


NHF Facebook