Understanding the Difference Between a Migraine and a Sinus Headache

migraine relief infographic

Do you get sinus headaches on a regular basis? Millions of people do. But could your sinus headaches actually be migraines? Before you dismiss the idea, you may want to learn about a study involving patients who were certain they were dealing with sinus headaches. Researchers discovered that 86% of the people in the study actually had migraines and were just confusing them for sinus headaches. How can that be? And how can you find natural relief for migraines and many other headache types? Read on to learn more.


Similarities Between Migraines and Sinus Headaches

There are some similarities between migraines and sinus headaches that lead to the confusion between the two. The primary similarities are:

  • Headache – Sinus headaches can range from mild to severe. However, most people associate migraines only with severe headaches. However, the requirements for a migraine headache are that two of four conditions exist, only one of which is a moderate to severe headache. Therefore, a person may confuse the two if the headache portion of the migraine isn’t that bad.
  • Sinus issues – Most people assume their headache is sinus related if they have any kind of stuffiness. What most people don’t know is that sinus issues are also a migraine symptom. So if you have a runny nose on the same days that you get your headaches, it doesn’t automatically mean they are sinus headaches. Sinus congestion may just be one of your migraine symptoms.
  • Nausea – This is one of the most common migraine symptoms. However, you can also become nauseous due to sinus drainage. So while this is much more common for migraine patients, you can’t rule it out for sinus sufferers. Nausea to the point of vomiting is far more likely for a migraine patient.


Why Is There So Much Confusion?

Of course, those are just three symptoms, and they may not be the entire reason for the confusion between sinus headaches and migraines. What else contributes? One factor is that migraines rarely last more than a day or two. Therefore, if you go to the doctor with sinus problems, they give you a pill for a sinus infection, and you start to feel better in the next day or two, you will probably attribute it to the pills rather than assuming that the diagnosis was wrong and your migraine ended on its own.

You also have to consider the placebo effect. When drug companies are trying to get FDA approval, the bigger concern is that the drug is safe, not that you get significantly better results for the non-placebo group. The fact is that, for whatever reason, humans seem to feel better after you give them a pill that you say will make them feel better. Therefore, you may feel better a few days into an antibiotic, even if you don’t have a sinus infection causing your headaches.

migraine relief infographic

The Difference Between Sinus Headaches and Migraines

There are two very common migraine symptoms that don’t have anything to do with sinus headaches. So these may be your best indicators to determine which condition you are dealing with.

  • Sensitivities to lights, smells, and other sensory stimuli – If strong smells make you feel worse, you can’t stand bright lights, and your spouse’s chewing seems to have multiplied in decibel intensity, then a migraine is the likely culprit. You may even be more sensitive to touch during an attack. This is because migraines are a neurological condition, and sensory information is processed in the mind.
  • Neck pain – About 75% of migraines present with neck pain either before or during the attack. The only migraine symptoms that are more common are sensory sensitivities and headaches (yes, the headache is just a symptom and occurs for 85-90% of migraines). Why are neck problems associated with migraines so often, and how may this help you to find natural relief from migraines and other headache types.


Natural Headache and Migraine Relief

While migraines are a neurological condition, they do have a few things in common with other headache types. For example, whether you are suffering from a headache or a migraine, some of the underlying factors can be related to blood flow, cerebrospinal fluid drainage, or brainstem function. This helps us to see the connection between headaches and neck pain. An upper cervical misalignment can be responsible for all of these factors.

  • Blood flow – When the cervical spine becomes misaligned, it can affect blood flow to the brain. This is because the 7 bones in the neck have loops called vertebral foramen that provide safe passage for the arteries. Misalignments can, therefore, affect the flow.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drainage – Upright MRIs have revealed that upper cervical misalignments stop CSF from draining properly. This can cause the vital fluid to pool and may even lead to increased intracranial pressure.
  • Brainstem function – The atlas (C1) surrounds the area where the brainstem meets the spinal cord. A misalignment may put pressure on the brainstem and inhibit optimal function.

For all of these reasons, if you are suffering from migraines or any other type of headache, it is worth it to see an upper cervical specific chiropractor. Precise measurements and gentle adjustments focused on the C1 and C2 make this a unique form of chiropractic care. To learn more, schedule a consultation with a practitioner near you. The search feature on this site can help you to find one of our preferred doctors.


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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.