Ear Nose and Throat Headaches: Part 3

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Woman with headache

Ear Nose and Throat Related Headaches Can be Bothersome

Headaches, which can be caused by almost anything, are among the most common medical complaints. 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.

We’ll look at ways in which throat issues can cause headaches in the third part of this three-part series discussing ear nose and throat causes for headaches

Sinus Infections

A sinus infection can be the 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.

What starts as regular allergies or hay fever (rhinitis) can turn into a sinus infection and sinus headache. The allergy induced nasal congestion means your sinuses cannot drain normally. Unfortunately, your body continues to produce mucus, setting off a chain reaction. Your sinuses become swollen, painful, and eventually infected. The pressure of this infection can cause a headache.

Tonsillitis

Inflamed tonsils (tonsillitis) can also cause both a sore throat and a headache. A common virus or, less often, a bacterial infection is usually the cause. Obvious symptoms include a sore throat, fever and swollen and discolored tonsils. Other symptoms can include 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).

Treatments

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 to clear up. If allergies are the cause, your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine. Antihistamines can help manage other symptoms and prevent future sinus infections.

Fortunately, surgery to resolve tonsillitis is no longer the de facto treatment. Instead, antibiotics are first used to treat bacterial tonsillitis. 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. Surgery is only required when tonsillitis occurs frequently, causes serious complications, or will not respond to other treatments.

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 an ear nose and throat doctor.

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