Sinus headaches develop due to inflammation or infection of the mucous membranes that leads to congestion, swelling and pain in the sinus cavity. Mucous or air that becomes trapped within the congested sinuses cause a headache. The pain generally starts behind the eyes, but can go back into the head and down to the teeth. Sinus headache triggers include allergies, smoke, dust and mold. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, inflammation must be reduced first to allow the sinuses to drain in order to provide headache relief.
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Relieving Sinus Headaches
Consult a physician, especially if the sinus headache is accompanied by a fever. A severe sinus headache that lasts for 7 or more days may indicate a sinus infection, which requires antibiotic therapy.
Alternate hot and cold compresses to stimulate blood flow and help sinuses drain. Prepare a washcloth with hot water and another with cold water, wringing out the excess. Lay the hot washcloth over the sinus area for 3 minutes, remove it and place the cold washcloth over the sinuses for 1 minute. Repeat each 3 times, and repeat the process 4 times per day.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology fact sheet on sinus headache states that irrigating the nasal passages clears irritants, bacteria, mucous and other particles that cause allergic reactions. Cleansing the sinuses of these irritants helps reduce the swelling and inflammation of passage membranes and promotes sinus drainage. A neti pot is used for this purpose and can be purchased at a pharmacy or health food store. The cleansing solution consists of 1/2 tsp of non-iodized salt such as sea salt to a full neti pot of lukewarm distilled water.
Breathe moist air from a humidifier, vaporizer, or a bowl of steaming water to relieve sinus headaches. Dry air aggravates sinus congestion and inflammation, and moist air reverses that effect. If you don't have a humidifier or vaporizer, use boiled water in a bowl, drape a towel over your head to form a tent and inhale the steam by breathing through your nose.
Drink water to keep the body hydrated and nasal passage moist, allowing them to drain more freely. Increasing fluid intake and hydration helps reduce inflammation as well.
Sleep on a slight incline to help keep nasal passages clear and allows sinuses to drain. Add a few extra pillows or a bed wedge to prop up your sleep position.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory; aspirin (if over 16) or ibuprofen are both pain relievers as well as anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen relieves pain. Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines also provide relief. Common antihistamines are diphenhydramine and loratadine. Diphenhydramine is best when used in the evening, as it causes drowsiness and helps induce sleep. Antihistamines are often combined with decongestants such as phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine to promote sinus drainage and clear nasal passages.