Allergies are linked to two types of headaches: sinus headaches and migraines. If you feel pressure in and around your nasal cavity, you may assume you have a sinus headache. But you may have an allergy-induced migraine instead.
Determining whether you have a sinus headache or a migraine involves looking at your symptoms and getting diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Managing your allergy symptoms may also help you control your migraines.
Here are some ways to differentiate a sinus headache from a migraine.
Similarities between a sinus headache and a migraine include:
- pressure in your sinuses
- nasal congestion
- watery eyes
- pain and pressure that worsens when bending forward
There are also several differences between a sinus headache and a migraine:
Sinus headache symptoms
- foul-smelling breath
- decreased sense of smell
- headache that lasts for many days but goes away after treatment
- aching in your upper teeth
- pus-like nasal discharge that’s yellow, green, or brown
- pain on one or both sides of head
- throbbing sensation
- sensitivity to light
- nausea and vomiting
- nasal discharge that’s clear
- a headache that lasts hours or up to three days and may recur one or many times
You may experience additional migraine symptoms if you have a migraine with aura. These migraines may include vision disturbances such as shimmering spots or flashing lights, numbness or tingling in the feet and hands, or altered smell, taste, and touch.
These symptoms may occur several minutes or even a half-hour before the migraine begins.
Allergies may make you more susceptible to migraine headaches. People with allergies are 10 times more likely than others to develop migraines. One study found that people with allergies experience a higher frequency of migraines than those who do not have allergies.
It’s likely that the pressure and pain you experience as a result of allergies is a migraine, not a sinus headache. One study looked at previous research on migraines and sinus headaches and found that the majority of people who appear to have a sinus headache without inflammatory symptoms in fact have a migraine.
There are no definite conclusions about why allergies and migraines are linked. It may be because these conditions cause your body to overreact to internal and external triggers by releasing histamine. This can result in congestion as well as other sinus pain and pressure.
There are several reasons you may experience a migraine. Some possible causes include:
- a release of natural substances produced in the brain that causes enlarged blood vessels that press on nerves in the head and face
- changes in your brainstem and how it interacts with the trigeminal nerve
- unbalanced chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin
- internal and external migraine triggers, including certain foods and beverages, stress, weather changes, hormonal changes, sleep changes, and overstimulating environments
You may be more susceptible to migraines if you’re a woman, you’re between the ages of 25 and 55, or you have a family history of migraines.
Factor in both your allergies and your migraines when seeking treatment. Managing allergies should be your first line of treatment. Your doctor can perform allergy tests to determine what you’re allergic to and how to treat it.
You may be able to manage your allergies with over-the-counter or prescription medications like antihistamines and decongestants. Or you may need other more aggressive treatments like allergy shots and nasal cromolyn.
Your migraines may continue despite allergy treatments. There are two migraine management methods. One is to treat the symptoms as they occur with medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription medications like triptans or ergot derivatives.
Other medications can prevent the onset of a migraine, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.
Take caution when using multiple medications to treat allergies and migraines. Using multiple medications at one time may cause complications or adverse side effects. Discuss your entire treatment plan with your doctor before combining medications.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your symptoms are from a sinus headache.
Both allergies and migraines may be associated with exposure to external and internal triggers. Identify what causes your allergies as well as your migraines and avoid them if possible.
Recording instances where you may be exposed to possible triggers could help you determine the cause of migraines and allergies.
Triggers for allergies
- certain foods and drinks
- pet dander
- environmental allergens like dust, mold, and pollen
Triggers for migraines
- certain foods and drinks, such as those that contain caffeine or alcohol
- sleep disruption or changes in sleep pattern
- lack of exercise
Making healthy lifestyle choices and managing your allergies may reduce the onset of a migraine.
See a doctor if you suspect you have either a sinus headache or a migraine caused by allergies. A proper diagnosis of your condition will help you manage your symptoms.
Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, allergies, and family history when diagnosing the condition. You may undergo certain tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include a CT scan, MRI scan, or X-ray.
Your doctor may also look at the affected sinus tissues with a scope in the nasal passage.
You may be more susceptible to migraines if you have allergies. Managing your allergies may help prevent migraines from occurring. In some cases, you may need to work with your doctor to treat both allergies and migraines simultaneously.