Sinus Vs Migraine: Know the Different Headaches

Know how can your differentiate between a migraine and a sinus headache.

3 min read
Hindi Female

Do you have a headache and other symptoms include a stuffy, runny nose, while your forehead and cheeks hurt? Do you think it is a sinus headache? You might be wrong. Headaches and nasal congestion are symptoms common to both sinus and migraine.

Headaches and their types are misdiagnosed so often that research proves that 95% of people who thought they are suffering from a sinus headache actually had a migraine.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, a large number self-diagnosed sinus headaches are actually migraine. People believe that sinus headache is a common illness and over-the-counter medications can treat these symptoms. However, a sinus headache is not as common as you might think.

We all get confused between a sinus headache and a migraine but in this article, we will point out the differences that can help you differentiate between the two.


Sinus Headaches Vs Migraine: Symptoms 

According to the doctors of Cleveland Clinic, there are a few common symptoms of migraine and sinus headache but the uncommon ones are those that help us differentiate between the two and are often misdiagnosed.

Migraine is not a bad headache but a disabling neurological disease with different symptoms and treatment approaches. According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 39 million Americans live with migraine.

Common symptoms of migraine include:

  • Moderate to severe head pain

  • Head pain is characterised by a throbbing, pounding, or pulsating sensation

  • Head pain gets worse with physical activity or movement

  • Feelings of nausea or vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light, noise or smells

  • Nasal congestion and runny nose

A sinus headache is called rhinosinusitis and is a rare condition. The cause may include viral or bacterial sinus infection characterised by thick, discolored nasal discharge. Common symptoms include:

  • Weaker smell or no smell

  • Facial pain or pressure and

  • Fever

  • Facial pain and headache for around seven days

  • Viral symptoms that get better with antibiotics

How to Know if it a Sinus Headache or Migraine? 

The biggest question is how to know if you are suffering from a migraine or a sinus headache? The only way is to go a step beyond the nasal and sinus congestion, the facial pain and pressure.

You will have to look for a headache that hinders your ability to function normally at work, school, home or social functions. Nausea, sensitivity to light, and triggers like weather change, menstrual cycle, and stress are migraine triggers.


It is a common belief that weather change often causes “sinus headache” but the truth is that it is a common trigger for migraine.

According to Dr Richard Lipton of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, these questions may help you know the type of headache you are experiencing:

  • How disabling have your headaches been in the past three months? Do they interfere with your ability to function?

  • Do you experience nausea when you have a headache?

  • Do you become sensitive to light while you have a headache?

If you answer “yes” to two of the above questions, migraine is likely the diagnosis for 93% of the time.

Sinus Headaches Vs Migraine: Timing

The other thing that can help differentiate between a migraine and sinus headache is the timing of the headache. A migraine attack has various trigger factors that include:

  • Certain food and drinks like alcohol, caffeine, and cured or processed foods

  • Food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • Increased stress levels

  • Increased levels of activity

  • Skipping meals

  • Sleep-related factors, like not getting enough sleep or jet lag

  • Changes in weather

  • Bright light

  • Sudden loud noises

  • Strong smell or fumes

  • Medications like oral contraceptives and nitroglycerin

  • Hormonal changes in women during menstruation, menopause, or pregnancy

On the other hand, if your headache occurs after an upper respiratory infection like common cold or the flu, it may be due to sinusitis and not migraine.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from fit

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More