Rhinologic headaches start in your nasal passages or sinuses. They’re commonly caused by sinus infections or seasonal allergies. They can also be caused by structural abnormalities inside your nasal passages.

Rhinologic headaches refer to headaches that develop due to pressure against tissues in your nasal passages. The prefix “rhino” comes from the ancient Greek word for “nose.”

Rhinologic headaches are more commonly referred to as sinus headaches. They can occur due to inflammation in your nasal cavity or due to structural abnormalities.

The term “rhinologic headache” is no longer commonly used. In fact, the International Headache Society doesn’t use the terms “sinus headache” or “rhinologic headache.” Instead, the society classifies headaches that start in the nasal cavities as:

  • headaches attributed to acute rhinosinusitis (nasal cavity inflammation)
  • headaches attributed to chronic or recurring rhinosinusitis
  • headache or facial pain attributed to other disorders of the skull, neck, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, teeth, and mouth, or other facial or cervical structures

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about rhinologic headaches.

Other names for rhinologic headaches

Rhinologic headaches go by many other names, including:

  • rhinogenic headaches
  • rhinopathic headaches
  • sinogenic headaches
  • middle turbinate headache
  • nasal spur headache
  • four finger headache
  • sinus headache
  • contact point headache
  • Sluder’s neuralgia
  • anterior ethmoidal neuralgia
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Rhinologic headaches can cause pain around your:

  • eyes
  • temples
  • forehead
  • upper jaw

You may find your pain is worse when lying down or bending over.

A common cause of rhinologic headaches is a sinus infection. Symptoms of a sinus infection include:

A rhinologic headache is caused by inflammation or structural abnormalities inside your nasal cavity that stimulate pain receptors. Underlying causes might include:

  • Infections: A sinus infection is a common cause of a rhinologic headache. Sinus infections are most commonly caused by viruses, but they can also be caused by bacterial or fungal infections.
  • Allergies: Allergies to substances such as pollen or dander can lead to inflammation in your nasal passages that triggers a headache.
  • Structural issues: Structural issues inside your nasal cavities can lead to the rubbing of tissue in your nose that leads to a headache. Potential causes include:
    • injury from a traumatic injury
    • congenital abnormalities

Migraine can also cause symptoms that mimic a sinus headache. Additionally, inflammation in the nasal passage may increase the intensity or frequency of migraine episodes through irritation of the trigeminal nerve.

Rhinologic headaches often occur alongside a sinus infection. People at an elevated risk of a sinus infection include those:

  • with a current cold
  • with seasonal allergies
  • who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke
  • who have structural issues inside their nose or sinuses, such as nasal polyps
  • with a weakened immune system

The National Health Service recommends seeing a doctor about headaches if:

  • your headache keeps returning
  • pain medications don’t help manage your headache
  • you have severe, throbbing pain in the side or front of your head, which could be a sign of a migraine episode or cluster headache
  • you feel sick, vomit, or find noise and light painful
Medical emergency

Seek urgent medical attention if you or your child has a severe headache that:

  • comes on suddenly
  • is intensely painful
  • feels different from previous headaches
  • occurs along with symptoms of a seizure, such as muscle contractions or unusual head and eye movements
  • occurs along with weakness in your arms or legs
  • comes on after a period of strenuous physical activity

A rhinologic headache isn’t a medical diagnosis itself, but it is a sign of an underlying condition, such as a sinus infection or atypical structure of your nasal cavity.

A doctor may diagnose a sinus infection based on your symptoms alone. They may want to take a sample of your mucus if the infection doesn’t improve with treatment.

If the cause of your headache isn’t clear, a doctor may order other tests, including:

  • Nasal endoscopy: Endoscopy is a test where a long tube with a camera is inserted into your nasal cavities to view the structures inside your nose.
  • CT scan: A CT scan is an imaging test that uses a series of X-rays to create a 3D picture of the inside of your nasal cavities.

The treatment options for rhinologic headaches depend on the underlying cause.

Sinus infections often get better on their own without treatment. Home remedies may help you manage your symptoms. They include:

  • staying hydrated
  • resting
  • irrigating your sinuses with a neti pot or other nasal irrigators
  • applying a warm compress to your face
  • breathing in steam (be sure not to burn yourself)

Additionally, you may find some relief from over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as:

Other treatment options include:

  • antibiotics like amoxicillin if the underlying cause is a bacterial infection
  • endoscopic surgery to treat anomalies inside your nasal passage
  • antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms
  • nasal sprays to open up your sinuses

You can potentially prevent rhinologic headaches by taking steps to avoid sinus infections. Steps include:

  • washing your hands regularly with soapy water
  • avoiding close contact with people who have respiratory infections or colds
  • getting a flu vaccine
  • avoiding smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

You can potentially prevent allergies by:

  • avoiding known triggers, when possible
  • taking your medications as prescribed
  • keeping your windows and doors closed when pollen counts are high
  • changing your clothes and showering after being in areas with a lot of pollen or irritants

Sinus infections often go away without any specific treatment. Seasonal allergies can be treated with medications to reduce your response to the allergen causing your symptoms. Visit a doctor if your headache is severe or doesn’t respond to OTC treatments.