Two types of headaches are linked to allergies: sinus headaches and migraines. (Cluster headaches sometimes are mistakenly linked to allergies. They are not an allergic condition and are not treated with the same kinds of medications as other allergic headaches.)
A migraine is usually to blame in people who have severe headaches that happen often, says neurology professor Stephen Silberstein, MD, of Thomas Jefferson University. He wrote the American Academy of Neurology’s guidelines on migraine diagnosis and treatment.
“If you walk into your doctor’s office with disabling headache pain that comes and goes, 95% of the time it’s migraine,” Silberstein says. “People with sinus infections don’t complain of headache first. They say they are sick and have a headache.”
Sinus headaches are usually caused by an infection and inflammation of the nasal passages. That leads to congestion. And that causes pain and pressure in the forehead and behind the cheekbones.
- Nasal or sinus congestion
- Certain foods
The sinus cavities are hollow air spaces with openings into the nose to allow the exchange of air and mucus. They are located inside each cheekbone, behind the eyes, behind the bridge of the nose and in the forehead. Secretions from the sinus cavities normally drain into the nose.
Sinus headaches and pain occur when the sinuses are swollen and their openings into the nasal passages are obstructed, stopping normal drainage and causing pressure to build up.
Often the pain is localized over the affected sinus, perhaps causing facial pain rather than a headache. For example, if the maxillary sinus in the cheeks is obstructed, your cheeks may be tender to the touch and pain may radiate to your jaw and teeth. Obstruction in other sinuses can cause pain on the top of your head or elsewhere. Sinus pain can be dull to intense; it often begins in the morning and becomes less intense after you move from lying flat to sitting or standing in an upright position.
Similar pain can also be caused by severe nasal congestion, particularly if you have a deviated septum or a septal “spur” from a previous nasal injury. Such “headaches” or facial pain can involve one side only.
An allergist or healthcare provider can diagnose an allergy induced headache through a physical examination and with allergy skin testing. Treatment for a sinus headache or allergy induced headache depends on the type of headache and focuses on how to treat the symptoms.
The cause of headaches can be difficult to determine. The doctor will question you about your headaches and do a physical exam.
Your doctor may perform imaging tests to help determine the cause of your headache, including:
- CT scan. CT scans use a computer to create cross-sectional images of your brain and head (including your sinuses) by combining images from an X-ray unit that rotates around your body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With MRIs, a magnetic field and radio waves are used to create cross-sectional images of the structures within your brain.
Antibiotics or nasal steroids are often a second line of attack to treat the underlying infection.
A sinus headache caused by an infection should go away soon after you start treatment.
Migraine treatment isn’t just about stopping a migraine once it starts. It’s also about preventing them and reducing how often you get them, how long they last, and how severe they are.
People can take drugs called triptans during a migraine attack to ease pain and get back to their daily activities.
Other meds that were made to treat epilepsy, depression, and high blood pressure also can prevent migraine attacks. So can Botox shots. Women who have migraines linked to their menstrual cycles might get a prescription for hormone therapy.
Your lifestyle also matters. Things that ease stress — such as exercise, relaxation, and biofeedback — may also keep migraines away and make them less severe. It’s also important to learn the things that can trigger your headaches and avoid them.
Let’s say you have a migraine. But you don’t know that, and you treat it with pain relievers for what you think is a sinus headache.
That may make matters worse. You might get some short-term relief, but you could wind up with a “rebound” headache afterward.
“A lot of sinus medications contain analgesics [pain relievers],” Silberstein says. “Overuse of analgesics can cause rebound headaches.”
Whether or not you take preventive medications, you may benefit from lifestyle changes that can help reduce the number and severity of headaches. One or more of these suggestions may be helpful for you:
- Avoid triggers. If certain foods or odors seem to have triggered your headaches in the past, avoid them. Your doctor may recommend you reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake and avoid tobacco.
In general, establish a daily routine with regular sleep patterns and regular meals. In addition, try to control stress.
- Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise reduces tension and can help prevent headaches. If your doctor agrees, choose any aerobic exercise you enjoy, including walking, swimming and cycling.
Warm up slowly, however, because sudden, intense exercise can cause headaches.
Obesity is also thought to be a factor in headaches, and regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.
- Reduce the effects of estrogen. If you’re a woman who has headaches and estrogen seems to trigger or make your headaches worse, you may want to avoid or reduce the medications you take that contain estrogen.
These medications include birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. Talk with your doctor about the appropriate alternatives or dosages for you.
- Hot and Cold Compress
One of the best remedies to treat a sinus headache is an alternate hot and cold compress. When moist moderate heat is applied on the sinus region it eases the pressure and loosens the thick mucus. Whereas when cold compress is applied, it provides relief from the pain by constricting the blood vessels in the sinus region.
- Take some water and heat it. Make sure the temperature is warm enough such that your facial skin can handle it without any burns or other discomfort.
- Soak a wash cloth or face towel in this water and wring out the excess.
- Fold and place the towel on your face covering the sinus region (forehead, nose and cheeks).
- Leave it for 3 minutes.
- Remove the face towel and soak it in cold water.
- Wring out the excess, fold and place on forehead for 30 seconds.
- Close your eyes and relax.
- Repeat the process 2 – 4 times in a day.
Taking a facial steam helps to moisten the nasal passages, clear the blocked nose and open up the congested sinus cavities. This eventually helps you drain out the mucus and breathe easily.
- Take some water enough for a facial steam and bring it to boil.
- Once the water is boiled, remove from the flame and add few drops of essential oil (optional).
- Lean forward towards the bowl containing hot water. Make sure your face is at least 30cms away from the water to avoid burns on your face.
- Cover your head with a towel or bedsheet in such a way that the steam vapours don’t escape.
- Now breathe through your nostrils and feel the steam going in them.
- Release out from your mouth. Repeat this for 5 counts. Now reduce the inhaling and exhaling to 2 counts.
- Continue doing this for 10 minutes or until the water is steaming.
- Make sure to blow your nose during and after the treatment to remove the mucus draining.
- Continue doing this for 1 to 2 minute or until you can tolerate.
- Remove the towel and relax to feel calm and cooler.
- Repeat the process again one more time.
- Inhale the vapours of hot tea or soup to stimulate a steam treatment when you are at work or outside. You can repeat this treatment once in every 2 hours for relief.
- At any point if you are not able tolerate steam or feeling burning sensation then remove the towel so that your face can feel calm and cooler.
- In the case of children, seniors and pregnant women, special care should be taken while inhaling steam to avoid burns.
3. Neti Pot
Neti pot increases the mucus drainage, reduces the pressure and inflammation in nasal passages. In this process, you will irrigate the nasal passages with a saline solution which cleanses the nose and sinus cavities. Once the mucus is drained out, the sinus pressure and headache will automatically reduce.
- Take a cup of lukewarm water which is distilled, sterile or previously boiled.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt into it and stir well until it dissolves.
- Fill the Neti pot with the saline solution.
- Now tilt your head over the skin at 45-degree angle.
- Place the spout of the Neti pot into one of your nostrils.
- Gently pour the solution into nostril carefully.
- The fluid starts following though your nasal cavity and comes out through another nostril. Sometimes it may run into your throat. Don’t worry, if it happens jut spit it out.
- Blow your nose to remove any remaining liquid.
- Now refill the Neti pot and repeat the process on the other side.
- As per some studies, it is said that people have achieved complete relief using Neti pot treatment daily. Once the symptoms are reduced, it can be repeated 3 times in a week.
- Alternatively, you can take bulb syringe without needle and irrigate your nostrils using it with saline solution. Do 2 sprays on each nostril for relief.
Note: Rinse the irrigation device or Neti pot every time after using it and leave to air dry.
4. Eucalyptus Oil
The cineole component present in Eucalyptus oil holds anti-inflammatory properties which reduce the inflammation. Eucalyptus is also rich in decongestion properties which reduce the mucus production which reduces the congestion in the sinus cavities.
- Take hot water in a bowl enough to use for steam inhalation.
- Add few drops of eucalyptus oil into it.
- Bend towards the hot water and cover your head with towel such that no steam escapes. Make sure there is enough space between you and water to avoid burns.
- Inhale and exhale the steam. Do this for few counts.
- Remove the towel and relax.
- Repeat as required.
Process 2: With Carrier Oil
- Dilute few drops of eucalyptus oil in 2 teaspoons of coconut oil or olive oil.
- Rub the mixture gently on sinus regions which include areas around nose, forehead and cheeks to get relief from the sinus pressure and headache.
Tip: Take a clean handkerchief or cotton pad and pour few drops of eucalyptus oil on it. Smell the eucalyptus placing the handkerchief near the nose. You can smell it throughout the day whenever required.
5. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil contains menthol which has amazing anesthetic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, insecticidal, antispasmodic and carminative properties. It helps to relief sinus congestion and headache.
- To a bowl of hot water, add few drops of peppermint oil.
- Take a steam of this solution for few minutes.
- Repeat the process daily whenever required until you get complete relief.
Alternative: Add few drop of peppermint oil in any carrier oil (almond oil or jojoba oil). Rub this mixture gently on the sinus regions i.e., nose, forehead, temples and cheeks.
6. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil contains antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties. It can not only provide relief from sinus but also treat the root cause like microbial infection.
- Add few drops of tea tree oil to hot water and inhale the steam.
- Repeat daily whenever required until you get complete relief.
Process 2: Try this process if you can withhold the strong nature of tea tree oil. Avoid if you cannot.
- Add 1 drop of tea tree oil on a Q-tip.
- Swab out the inside of nasal cavity using it.
Process 3: You can try this process whenever you are outside or in the office.
- Add a drop of tea tree oil on a cotton ball or Q-tip.
- Inhale the smell of it filling the aroma into your nose.
Note: Due to blocked nose, you may not feel the smell of tea tree oil but the air containing tea tree oil will provide relief by slowly clearing the blocked nose.
Gingerol component present in ginger holds anti-inflammatory properties which reduce the swelling. The pain-relieving properties of ginger provide relief from the pressure and congestion.
Process 1: Internal Consumption
- Slice a ginger and add it to a cup of hot water.
- Cover and let it steep for 10 minutes.
- Consume it.
- While sipping the ginger tea, inhale the vapours coming out it.
- Eat the ginger slices as well. Strain them if you don’t want to eat them.
- Consume 3 – 4 cups of ginger tea in a day until you get some relief.
Process 2: Topical Application
- Blend ginger with enough amounts of water to make a paste. Using a facial brush or fingers apply it on the forehead. This should provide relief within 30 minutes.
- Alternatively, Massage few drop of ginger oil on the sinus regions to get relief from the sinus headache.
For effective results, you can include ginger in your daily cooking.
Cinnamon contains antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It reduces the swelling which open the blockage in nasal passages. Consumption of cinnamon boosts your immunity which protects you from viral and bacterial infections.
Process 1: Topical Application
- In a bowl, combine 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder, 1/2 teaspoon of sandalwood powder and enough amounts of water to make a paste.
- Using a brush or fingers, apply the paste on your forehead.
- Leave the application for 5 – 8 minutes and wash it off with water.
- Repeat the process frequently until you achieve the results.
- Alternatively, you can exclude sandalwood powder if you don’t have it handy.
Process 2: Internal Consumption
- Bring a cup of water to boil and add a cinnamon stick.
- Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the flame.
- Let it steep for 10 – 15 minutes and consume it.
- Inhale the vapours from the cinnamon tea for extra relief.
- Repeat whenever required.
- Alternatively, you can a pinch of cinnamon powder to teas, coffee, milk or any other beverages.
- Alternatively, you can combine 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon powder and 1 tablespoon of honey. Consume this mixture daily for at least 3 days to get relief.
Process 3: Steaming
- To hot water, add 3 – 5 drops of cinnamon oil.
- Cover your head with towel, bend towards the hot water and inhale the steam.
- After few minutes of steaming, remove the towel and relax.
- For extra effectiveness, add thyme and clove essential oils.
Holy basil also known as tulsi contains eugenol, campehe and cineole components. They help to clear the congestion and inflammation of the sinuses. The antiviral properties present in fight with bacteria or fungal causing the infection. The soothing effect of it provides relief from headache.
- Wash 10 basil leaves. Wash and peel 1 inch ginger.
- Using a mortar and pestle, crush basil leaves, ginger piece and 10 pepper corns to make a paste.
- Bring a cup of water to boil and add the ground paste into it.
- Simmer until the amount reduces to half of its actual quantity.
- Strain the solution and add sugar candy for taste.
- Drink it on an empty stomach. Repeat drinking this Ayurveda remedy daily.
- Apart from that, you can also drink it 2 hours after your meals or whenever required.
Note: Avoid taking bath or expose yourself to cold after drinking this Ayurveda remedy.
Process 2: Steaming
- Add few drops of tulsi oil to hot water.
- Inhale the steam from this solution by covering your head with towel.
- After few minutes, remove the towel and relax.
- Repeat whenever required.
10. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains anti-bacterial and antifungal properties which fight with the bacteria or fungus causing infection. Its anti-inflammatory properties reduce the inflammation which helps in draining out the mucus.
- Combine 1/2 cup each of apple cider vinegar and water.
- Bring the mixture to boil.
- Now remove from the flame and let it sit for a minute.
- Cover your head and inhale the vapours through nose. Your nose may sting a little but don’t worry. It will next clear the mucus and slowly drains it out.
- After few minutes of inhaling and exhaling, remove the cover and relax.
- Repeat the process whenever required.
- For extra soothing effect, add peppermint oil.
The outcome of treatment depends on your condition. Seasonal allergic rhinitis usually isn’t severe, and you can manage it well with medications. However, severe forms of this condition will likely require long-term treatment.
If you have chronic daily headaches, you’re also more likely to have depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and other psychological and physical problems.