Migraines Vs. Sinus Headaches – How to Tell Them Apart


Are one of the millions of people who seem to get sinus headaches all the time, perhaps even a few times per week? If you have never read an article comparing the symptoms of migraines vs. sinus headaches, you may be in for a shock. It turns out that a lot of people confuse the two! In fact, there was one study that showed 86% of people who thought they were having sinus headaches were actually getting migraines. Could the same be true for you?

In order to clear the air, were going to begin by considering some of the similarities between sinus headaches and migraines. This will help to explain why they get confused so often. Then we will take a closer look at some of the most significant differences.

Remember that you will still need to see a doctor for an official diagnosis – this article is for informational purposes only. Now that we’ve said that, let’s consider the similarities and differences between sinus headaches and migraines. 

Migraines Vs. Sinus Headaches: Their Big Similarities

Let’s take a look at three symptoms that these two conditions have in common. 

#1 Headache 

Sinus problems and migraines are both well-known for causing headaches. One reason that people get these two confused is that most people think of a migraine as a horrible headache. In reality, migraines are a neurological condition that just happens to have a headache as a symptom about 90% of the time. But does it always have to be severe? Actually, a migraine headache only has to meet two of these four conditions:

  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Pain that is throbbing or pulsing
  • Exertion increases the pain 
  • Pain affects just one side of the head 

This can make it easy to confuse a sinus headache and a migraine, especially if the headache isn’t that bad. 

#2 Stuffy Nose

Congestion may cause the most confusion in the battle of migraines vs. sinus headaches. You get congested. You get a headache. It must be a sinus headache. Even doctors are quick to jump to this conclusion. However, it is essential to note that while it is not one of the most common symptoms, sinus congestion can still be an indicator of a migraine. So don’t be fooled – not every headache that is accompanied by a stuffy nose is a sinus headache. 

#3 Nausea 

Nausea is one of the most common migraine symptoms. In fact, if the pain and nausea get bad enough, vomiting may occur. Unfortunately, these are also sinus headache symptoms. The drainage can cause nausea and even vomiting in severe cases. Therefore, it can be almost impossible to tell sinus headaches and migraines apart by this symptom alone. 

Migraines Vs. Sinus Headaches: The Differences 

Now let’s look at two significant differences between migraines and sinus headaches that can help to confirm that the problem is a neurological condition rather than an infection. 

#1 Sensory Sensitivities 

One of the telltale indicators of a migraine is that a person usually becomes more sensitive to sensory stimuli. For example, bright lights can be painful and blinding. Loud or repeating sounds can be abnormally irritating. Strong smells, whether from chemicals or natural fragrances can add to the pain, nausea, and other symptoms. 

#2 Neck Pain 

Neck pain is one of the most common migraine symptoms. In fact, as many as 75% of migraines may start with neck pain or include neck pain during the headache. Neck pain and sinus problems are often unrelated, so it makes more sense for the headache to be a migraine than for a person to have a neck problem and a sinus problem at the same time. 

Migraines Vs. Sinus Headaches: Another Possible Cause of Confusion 

While there are some similar symptoms, there are also some major differences. What can be another possible reason that people mix up migraines and sinus headaches? It may have to do with misdiagnosis and treatment. For example, if a doctor tells you that you have a sinus infection and gives you an antibiotic, you expect to feel better after a day or two of treatment. When you do, you are sure it was another sinus infection. But what if it was just a migraine that got better because even with prodrome and postdrome symptoms, migraines rarely last more than a few days? You may attribute feeling better to the pills and readily accept that you have another sinus infection when the next migraine strikes, even if it is just a week or two later. 

Finding Natural Relief from Migraines 

One of the big reasons that it is crucial to know whether you are getting sinus headaches or migraines is because antibiotics or sinus medicines won’t help a migraine. You need natural migraine relief. One way you can get it is through upper cervical chiropractic care. This specific form of chiropractic has had success with migraine patients. Why?

When the top two bones in the neck are misaligned, it can affect brainstem function, cerebrospinal fluid drainage, and flow of blood to the brain. These can all be factors when it comes to migraines. Therefore, it makes sense to look for a misalignment in these particular bones. Upper cervical chiropractors use precise methods to pinpoint and gently correct such misalignments. 

For some patients, this has meant a huge difference when it comes to migraines occurrence. Therefore, if you are living with migraines, especially if you have a history of head or neck trauma, you should give upper cervical chiropractic care a try.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.