If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have been told by their doctor they suffer from sinus headaches, there’s an 86% chance you have been given the wrong diagnosis.1
That’s the conclusion of researchers who have found that the vast majority of people who believe they get sinus headaches actually suffer from migraines.2
The distinction is crucial. That’s because treatments for the two types of headaches are different.
If you’re diagnosed with a sinus headache, doctors will typically start you on antibiotics to kill off the infection they believe you have. And they may put you on a steroid drug to relieve inflammation causing painful sinus pressure.
Millions of Americans go on and off these medication cycles for years, even decades, to battle their sinus headaches. And it can have devastating health effects. Antibiotics kill “good” gut bacteria and increase chances of getting diabetes, Crohn’s disease, asthma, and obesity. The overuse of antibiotics is also blamed for the rise in deadly antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” Steroids can cause bone weakness, weight gain, hair loss, and damages tissues.3
The worst part? Most of these patients get these risky treatments for no reason. Only a tiny fraction of headache patients actually suffer from sinus headaches.4
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Why the Diagnosis Confusion?
The 2007 “Sinus, Allergy and Migraine Study” (SAMS) revealed that 86% of patients diagnosed with sinus headaches actually have migraines. Subsequent research has confirmed the findings, reporting that up to 90% of people seeing a doctor for sinus headaches really have migraine pain.5,6
Confusion stems from the fact that migraines and sinus headaches share many of the same symptoms. And most people seek treatment from their primary care physician. Unlike headache specialists, general practitioners are not trained to distinguish the subtle differences between the two types of headaches.
The misdiagnosis is often reinforced after a patient is given antibiotics. Despite the incorrect treatment, the patient does feel better. That’s because the antibiotic can have a powerful placebo effect. And migraines recede on their own with time. So the patient believes the treatment has worked. And they ask for the same treatment the next time they get a headache.
Migraine vs. Sinus Headache: How to Tell the Difference
Migraines and sinus headaches share many common symptoms: facial pain, sinus pressure, nasal congestion, runny nose, teary eyes, and pulsating pain.7,8
Here’s how to tell the difference:
- Thick mucus. Sometimes it will be greenish. Clear mucus means you likely don’t have a sinus infection.
- Fever. Sinus headaches cause a fever. Migraines rarely do.
- Nasal drip and/or sore throat.
- Painful sensitivity to light or sound. This doesn’t occur in sinus headaches.
- Vomiting or nausea. Sinus headaches usually don’t cause severe stomach upset.
- Severe, debilitating pain. Migraine pain is often so severe that normal functioning is impossible. Sinus headache pain is less severe.
If you suffer from frequent headaches, see a headache specialist to get the right diagnosis. The Migraine Research Foundation offers a nationwide list of certified headache physicians.
If it turns out you suffer migraines, there may be a simple, natural solution. We recently told you about a new research that reveals many migraines are caused by vitamin deficiencies.