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
- Cane sugar
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Sodium nitrate/nitrite (a preservative)
- Tartrazine (an artificial color commonly known at FD&C Yellow 5)
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Causes Migraines?
Stress can cause migraines as well as sensory stimuli. Bright lights and loud sounds can also induce migraines. Certain foods will cause migraines, so avoidance of these foods will prevent them from recurring.
How Do You Treat Recurrent Migraines?
Over-the-counter or prescription medications will help treat recurrent migraines. If your migraines are triggered by allergies, seek allergy treatment from the allergists at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers.
Are Migraines Hereditary?
Though migraine causes are not completely understood, genetic factors appear to play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can possibly prevent migraines.
When Should I See A Specialist For My Migraine?
You should see a specialist for your migraines if you have speech, vision, movement, or balance problems that are new or different from symptoms you have had before with your migraines. Severe migraines could be the cause of an underlying condition.
How Is A Sinus Headache Diagnosed?
An allergist or ENT specialist can diagnose your sinus headache by assessing your symptoms and taking a CBCT sinus scan if necessary. Book an appointment at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers if you believe you have sinusitis.
Can A Sinus Headache Cause Dizziness?
Dizziness or lightheadedness can result from a severe sinus headache. It’s important to treat your sinus problems to prevent other symptoms of a sinus headache.
How Long Do Sinus Headaches Last?
Headaches due to sinus infections often last days or longer. They will resolve when your sinus problems are treated.
How Do You Treat A Sinus Headache?
A sinus headache will resolve after treating the underlying sinus problem. Visit NY Allergy & Sinus Centers for sinusitis treatment.
Do I Need Treatment For A Non-Sinus Headache?
Oftentimes, a non-sinus headache will resolve on its own. You may take approved medications to get relief sooner.
Are There Natural Remedies To Relieve Headaches?
Peppermint and lavender essential oils have been shown to reduce the symptoms of a non-sinus headache. Apply the essential oil to both temples for relief. Do not use if you are allergic or intolerant to such oils.
I’ve been told I have migraines. Could this be sinus, TMJ, or Sleep Apnea related?
Yes. Many times a migraine diagnosis is given when there can be other underlying issues.
Can Allergies Cause Headaches?
Yes, allergies have an effect on the sinuses and can give you sinus headaches. We recommend treating your allergies at NY Allergy & Sinus Centers to cure your headaches.
What Is The Treatment for Non-Sinus Related Headaches?
Painkillers can help soothe symptoms related to non-sinus related headaches. However, it is best to treat the underlying condition that’s causing your headaches to prevent future headaches. For TMJ headaches, a mouthguard worn when sleeping can help prevent headaches. Muscle relaxers may also help prevent muscle-related headaches. Be sure to consult with your doctors before taking any new medication.