If it's not a sinus headache, then what is it?
As it turns out, the vast majority of people who believe they are suffering from sinus headaches are in fact suffering from something else entirely. In fact, according to a presentation at a recent conference of the American Headache Society, almost 90% of those who have headache symptoms that seem to be sinus-related are in fact suffering from migraines.
Pain in the area of the sinuses is what often leads to misdiagnosis, by oneself or through a medical practitioner, of the health issue as a sinus headache. Once individuals believe that is the problem, over-the-counter and prescription sinus medications are often taken without positive results, according to Teri Robert of Health Central (1). In fact, OTC sinus medications are frequently overused in an effort to do whatever it takes to stop the pain.
The AHS study, conducted by the Mayo Clinic’s Scottsdale branch, revealed that the average misdiagnosed patient had seen over four different doctors and been experiencing symptoms for over 20 years. Without knowing it was a migraine, they had not been able to receive proper migraine treatment.
Sinus headaches are very uncommon and are typically only the result of an infection. The Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute points out why the two sets of headache symptoms can confuse many individuals and doctors: sinus disease can be experienced by those with and without migraines, but if it occurs in a person who is already having regular migraines, the sinus problem can exacerbate the migraines themselves (2).
MHNI further suggests that if an infection does take hold in the sinuses, symptoms can closely resemble those of migraines. This issue causes misunderstanding in the opposite direction: if a person does truly have a sinus headache stemming from an infection, it's possible that she will be diagnosed incorrectly as suffering from migraines.
The reason that migraines sometimes simulate the effects of a sinus headache is because they can cause inflammation in the trigeminal nerve, which covers a large swath of the face. The nerve extends from the jaw to the sinuses to the eyebrows. If it does become inflamed, pain will be felt very close to the sinuses. Because so many people experience migraines the United States – 12% of the entire population – misdiagnoses occur frequently.
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