Migraines, Sinus Headaches, and Non-Sinus Related Headaches

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There are three types of headaches you may experience; they are migraines, sinus headaches, and non-sinus related headaches such as TMJ headaches. Each type of headache comes with its own symptoms and can be triggered by numerous things. When determining your type of headache and how to treat it, you may need to consult with your doctor or specialist. While a primary care physician can diagnose migraines or non-sinus related headaches and prescribed treatment, an allergist or ENT doctor is more equipped to diagnose sinus headaches.

Migraines and Sinus Headaches 

Oftentimes, allergies can trigger a migraine. While the connection between migraines and allergies is not completely understood, evidence suggests there is a relationship between the two. This migraine study found that people with allergies experience a higher frequency of migraines than those who do not have allergies. You may experience a migraine, sinus headache, or non-sinus headache.

The sinuses are lined with sensitive tissue that contains nerves that are related to the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is also responsible for migraines. To complicate matters, you can also experience “referred pain” –when pain is sent to an area of the body (here, the head and face) even though that area is not the cause of the pain. This means that sinus headaches can cause pain outside of the sinuses, while migraine headaches can cause pain in the sinuses. 

To make matters even more confusing, certain migraine sufferers also experience watery eyes and nasal congestion during their migraines. Therefore, it is sometimes challenging to identify whether you are experiencing a sinus headache or a migraine. We recommend that you consult with our NYC allergists to work towards a correct diagnosis.

Symptoms Of A Migraine

Migraine symptoms last four to seventy-two hours at a time and range from moderate to severe. They often increase when you are physically active. These symptoms include:

  • Pulsating temples
  • Pain on one side of the head
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • No fever
  • An altered or heightened sense of smell; avoidance of odors
  • Repeated or chronic headaches
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Facial pressure or pain

Symptoms Of A Sinus Headache

Sinus headaches resemble migraines. However, they are accompanied by:

  • Nasal discharge that is colored
  • Possible fever
  • Headaches that occur over the sinuses
  • Abnormal x-ray or CT scan of the sinuses

Sinus headaches usually disappear after being treated for sinusitis. So if you believe you have sinusitis, contact our allergists for same-day diagnosis and treatment.

Food Allergies And The Link To Migraines and Sinus Headaches

Some people have identified a relationship between their headaches and the consumption of particular foods. Studies have investigated this relationship, and seem to support this idea. However, there is controversy over whether this relationship is related to allergies, or if the migraine may be triggered by a particular chemical or ingredient in the food. Common food triggers for headaches include:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Beef
  • Cane sugar
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Seafood
  • Sodium nitrate/nitrite (a preservative)
  • Tartrazine (an artificial color commonly known at FD&C Yellow 5)
  • Tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat
  • Yeast

It is important to note that just because you experience a headache after consuming the above foods, it does not mean you have an allergy or intolerance. The only way to know if you have a food allergy is to visit an allergist for an allergy test to identify what you are allergic to. We also recommend keeping an allergy food diary – a record of which foods are eaten, when you eat them, and what symptoms you experience later. This can help your NYC doctor identify suspicious patterns. Keep in mind that an allergic reaction could occur immediately, or could take time to develop.

Avoidance of food triggers may decrease the frequency of your migraines but should be approached cautiously in order to avoid adopting an unbalanced or unhealthy diet. We recommend that you consult with our allergists or a dietician before beginning an avoidance diet.

Migraines And Allergic Rhinitis

There are a few ways that respiratory allergies could affect your migraines. First, there is a clear relationship between inflammation and allergies. An inflammatory reaction caused by allergies leads to the release of chemicals (histamine and leukotrienes, for example) and these chemicals can, in turn, trigger migraines. Second, allergic rhinitis causes nasal congestion. This could irritate nerves in the nose and sinuses and provoke a migraine. Finally, allergies have been shown to worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression, which could also affect the number of migraines you experience.

At least one study has suggested that people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience a migraine than people without allergic rhinitis. Also, it showed that allergic rhinitis may increase the frequency of one’s migraines. Other studies have shown a relationship between allergic asthma and migraine headaches. Unfortunately, it is not clear what is causing allergies and asthma in these patients.

Treatment of allergic rhinitis may help prevent or treat headaches in people that seem to have allergy-based triggers to their migraines. Unfortunately, there have been few studies performed that can prove or disprove this.

Non-Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches and non-sinus headaches are very similar. However, real sinus headaches are almost always from a sinus infection. So, if you do not have a sinus infection but experience a throbbing pain in your head, it is probably not sinus related. Most headaches develop in the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover a person’s head and neck. They can have causes that aren’t due to an underlying disease such as lack of sleep, an incorrect eyeglass prescription, stress, loud noise exposure, or tight headwear.

Symptoms of a non-sinus headache include:

  • Moderate to severe pain (often described as pounding, throbbing pain) that can affect the whole head, or can shift from one side of the head to the other 
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, or odors
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea or vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain

People who suffer from headaches or migraines should consider the possibility of a relationship between allergies and sinusitis. It could bring you one step closer to comfort and relief from severe headaches and their symptoms.

TMJ And Other Muscle-Related Headaches

TMJ (temporomandibular joint) muscles run along your jaw and cheeks. When these muscles tense, it can cause mild or severe headaches. TMJ headaches most commonly occur on one side of the head but can occur on both. Tension can be caused by inflammation due to teeth grinding as seen in patients with sleep apnea. 

Teeth grinding and clenching the jaw not only causes TMJ headaches but also results in loss of tooth enamel. Treating these symptoms will prevent further damage to the jaw and teeth. Ask your doctor about a mouthguard for TMJ.

Traditional muscular problems like pinched nerves, tight muscles, bad posture, and other traditional muscular problems also trigger headaches. Tension headaches occur when scalp and neck muscles are tense or contract. These muscle contractions may result from stress, depression, anxiety, or head injury. Tension headaches are often described as feeling like a tight band around the head. Unlike migraines, headaches due to muscular problems are usually felt in the head, scalp, and neck.

If you believe allergies or sinus problems may be causing your migraines, our allergists and specialists at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers would like to help. Our doctors can also help you find relief for your respiratory and food allergies, nasal and sinus problems, ENT (ear, nose, and throat) symptoms, skin conditions, & asthma. We see pediatric and adult patients from all around NYC with access to the latest treatments and testing. We also offer six convenient clinics throughout the NYC metropolitan area. Call NY Allergy & Sinus Centers at 212-686-6321 to book an appointment today.

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