Ear Nose and Throat Headaches: Part 2

Woman with allergies

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 and throat issues.

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

Sinus Infections

What you feel as a headache could actually be caused by a problem in your sinuses. Here’s how it happens: the trigeminal nerve, designated cranial nerve V (CN-V), is responsible for transmitting sensations from the sinuses and other parts of the face to the brain. Because this nerve has connections throughout the head and face, pain from one area can easily spread to other areas in a process known as referred pain.

In fact, a sinus headache is a common symptom of sinusitis (sinus infection). When your sinuses become infected and inflamed, they cannot drain properly. This causes a build-up of pressure, which can, in turn, cause a headache. If your headache is a sinus headache, you should have other symptoms of a sinus infection. Symptoms include fever and nasal discharge. The headache itself will be a constant, throbbing pain around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead — often only on one side of the face.

Hay Fever

The technical term for hay fever is rhinitis, and there are two kinds: allergic and non-allergic. Symptoms of rhinitis include an itchy nose, sneezing, and a stuffy or running nose. Thereby affect ear nose and throat conditions. In the case of allergic rhinitis, they are triggered when your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance (called an allergen) as a threat to your health. Allergens could be anything from pollen to pet dander or even dried skin flakes. This means your hay fever could be seasonal or last all year. About one-third of adults with these symptoms have non-allergic rhinitis. This means the cause is not their immune system’s response to an allergen.

Hay fever can cause a headache accompanied by these symptoms. In that case, the symptoms associated may be very similar to those of a sinus headache.


Rest, increased fluid intake, and over-the-counter medications can treat a mild sinus infection at home. If your headache returns, gets worse or lasts more than a week, you should see a doctor for further treatment. You may need an antibiotic to get rid of the sinus infection or an antihistamine to help with rhinitis. Corticosteroid sprays or drops can help reduce the swelling. Your doctor might refer you to an ear nose and throat specialist for further diagnosis. In extreme cases, draining your sinuses may require surgery.

Keep in mind that doctors consider true sinus headaches to be rare. Many people who think they have a sinus headache actually suffer from migraines. It is also important to note that the hormones from pregnancy can also trigger both rhinitis (known as hormonal rhinitis) and migraines, along with other unpleasant symptoms. Because treatment of these various issues differs, consulting a doctor is especially important.


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