Migraine vs. Sinus Headache: How to Tell the Difference

Migraine vs. Sinus Headache: How to Tell the Difference

Migraine and a Sinus Headache

It starts with watery eyes, congested or runny nose, and a headache focused around the face; you may be thinking it’s another sinus headache. This is a common self-diagnosis. Unfortunately, this assumption is incorrect over 90% of the time. The truth is that migraines also share many of the symptoms of a sinus headache. Long-term studies have concluded that patients with self-misdiagnosis can go for up to two years before receiving the correct treatment. The best way you can tell the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache is by looking at each condition’s actual definitions and differences.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Migraine and a Sinus Headache

An actual sinus headache, also called rhinosinusitis, is not as common as most people think. The most common causes of a sinus headache are viral or bacterial infections. These infections can cause yellowish thick nasal discharge, diminished smell/ taste, fever, headaches, bad breath, cough, and pain in the teeth or ears. The typical treatment includes antibiotics and should clear up within seven days.

Migraines, on the other hand, are more than just bad headaches. According to The American Migraine Foundation, migraines affect at least 39 million patients in the U.S. alone. But, as many people do not have a correct diagnosis, the real number is potentially much larger. The most common symptoms of migraines include headaches accompanied by pounding or throbbing sensation, sensitivity to light, sound, or other stimuli, nausea, nasal congestion with thin, clear mucus, and fatigue.

While many of the symptoms are similar, there are distinct differences between the two. Both share runny noses with mucus discharge; the consistency of the phlegm is different. Headaches and pain are also symptoms that both conditions have in common. The key difference here is the heightened sensory sensitivity that comes with migraines. The most obvious indicator between the two is the reoccurrence rate of symptoms. Sinus headaches can be seasonal or can be a one-and-done event. On the other hand, migraines will return repeatedly throughout the year with little or no correlation to seasonal weather patterns, common with winter colds and sinus infections.

It’s an excellent idea to schedule a visit with your doctor when your headaches grow worse over time or become more frequent when over-the-counter medication ceases to provide relief and begins to interfere with your ability to function at a normal level.

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