Inflamed and swollen sinuses can cause sinus headaches, and this can be due to infections, colds or allergies. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between a sinus headache and a migraine and it is always best to seek advice from your GP to be sure. Both conditions can cause very similar symptoms, including pain in the face and head, although there are some key differences. Sinus headaches tend to cause pain in the face and frontal part of the head (forehead), including the cheeks, eyes, ears and upper teeth, but rarely anywhere else. In migraines, the headaches are usually also more severe, one-sided and often preceded by an aura or symptoms that the migraine is about to start, such as flashing lights or a feeling of nausea. Pain that is felt predominantly in the neck area is unlikely to be due to sinusitis and is also rare due to migraine. Other causes might need to be considered, such as neck stiffness due to a musculoskeletal cause, an injury or a vascular (blood vessel) cause. It is, however, possible to get some tightness in the neck due to tension or stress, and this can also accompany sinusitis or migraine, although the neck pain is likely to be less severe than the facial pain/pressure.
In the case of a sinus infection, you may also be experiencing other sinus related issues such as nasal congestion, a stuffy or runny nose (especially with an unpleasant nasal mucus discharge which can be green or yellow), or excessive sneezing. If neck pain is present it will likely be a tension-type pain, which is often worse after long periods of inactivity such as after sleeping, on bending over or going from hot to cold temperatures. This neck and head pain together can make you feel fatigued and can be quite unpleasant especially if you also have a fever.
To treat sinus headaches and neck pain successfully you can start by using over the counter medicines such as decongestants and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen. This will not only help to relieve the pain but also the pressure caused by congestion. Antihistamines can also be effective if the issue has been irritated by allergies. It is always best to consult your GP before choosing your medication. If there are also signs of an infection, such as green/yellow nasal discharge and a fever, then it is possible that you will require a course of antibiotics from your GP or specialist.
Steps to Prevent flare-ups
The first step towards preventing sinus headaches and neck pain is to find out what the cause is. If the cause is a virus or common cold, then take the usual precautions to prevent a cold by washing hands and surfaces thoroughly and avoiding close contact with people suffering from a cold. If allergies are the cause, then you can take an antihistamine daily, as well as making efforts to avoid the substances to which you are allergic. It is also advised to avoid activities that alter the air pressure such as underwater swimming and flying activities, until such time that the symptoms have improved and you are feeling much better. Otherwise, the changes in air pressure can make the sinus infection (and therefore symptoms) much worse.
Signs Of Something More Serious
It is important to note that a fever along with a headache, neck stiffness and in some cases a skin rash can also be a sign of a more serious issue such as meningitis so always be sure to consult your GP if you are not sure or if your symptoms worsen suddenly over a short period of time.