Ear, Nose, and Throat Headaches: Part 3

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Headaches are among the most common medical complaints, and they can be caused by almost anything. You’ll probably experience more than one in your lifetime — perhaps even several different types. Although most headaches aren’t cause for serious concern, it can be hard not to worry when your headache comes with other symptoms, such as ear, nose, or throat issues.

In the third part of this three-part series, we’ll look at ways in which a headache could be related to throat issues.

Sinus Infections

A sinus infection can be the root cause of both a sore throat and a headache. Instead of draining properly, mucus from your inflamed sinus cavities drips down the back of your throat. Over time, this causes irritation and pain, which can explain your sore throat.

What about your headache? Explaining this requires a bit more background information. A large nerve known as the trigeminal nerve services various parts of the face — including the sinuses, throat, and head. Because of this, pain from a headache can actually be referred pain, or pain that originates from elsewhere, such as in your sinuses.

That’s not all — what starts as regular allergies or hay fever (rhinitis) can turn into a sinus infection and sinus headache. The nasal congestion associated with allergies means your sinuses cannot drain normally. Unfortunately, your body continues to produce mucus due to your allergies, setting off a chain reaction. Your sinuses become swollen, painful, and eventually infected.  The pressure of this infection can cause a headache.


Inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis) can also cause both a sore throat and a headache. Tonsillitis can be caused by a common virus or, less often, by a bacterial infection. Other than the obvious fever and swollen and discolored tonsils, symptoms include a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, tender lymph nodes, a scratchy voice, bad breath, stiff neck, and a headache. Although tonsillitis is most common in children, adults can also be affected. A young child may not be able to communicate his symptoms. In that case, you should watch out for unusual fussiness, a refusal to eat, and a drooling (caused by difficult or painful swallowing).


An over-the-counter pain medication may help relieve a sinus headache, but you also need to treat the underlying cause. Sinus infections may require antibiotics in order to clear up. If allergies are the root cause, your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to help manage other symptoms and prevent future sinus infections.

Fortunately, surgery to resolve tonsillitis is no longer the de facto treatment. Instead, bacterial tonsillitis is first treated with antibiotics. Surgery is only required when the bacterial tonsillitis occurs frequently, causes serious complications, or will not respond to other treatments. Although antibiotics won’t help viral tonsillitis, this version will usually resolve itself within a week or so. And there are steps you can take at home to aid in recovery.

Again, because a central nerve connects various parts of the head, neck, and face, there are a variety of conditions that could cause both a headache and throat issues. To find out for sure what is wrong and get the best treatment, you should seek the professional help of a doctor.


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