The Top Differences Between Headaches, Sinus Pain and Migraines

Headaches are an unfortunately common problem for millions of people. They cause pain and discomfort and can even mean lost time at work and with friends and family.

Written By Paul Carpenter

On October 13, 2019




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Headaches are an unfortunately common problem for millions of people. They cause pain and discomfort and can even mean lost time at work and with friends and family. Those who suffer from frequent or even chronic headaches know the frustration of missing out on productive time or needing to miss a party, outing or family event because of a headache.

As both medical professionals and headache sufferers will tell you, one of the key factors in developing a plan to get relief your headaches is spending time figuring out what type of headache pain you suffer from based on your symptoms.

There are many kinds of headaches and more than one kind of condition or disorder that can cause pain in your head and neck. Learning to recognize the causes and sources of your headache pain can help you and your healthcare providers put together a treatment plan and find the remedy that will most effectively treat and prevent your headaches from returning.

The good news is that there are a wide range of treatment options for the different varieties of headaches, so once you have a handle on what types of headache pain you have, you will be able to take advantage of the different options and find relief more successfully.

Some of the most common types of headaches are sinus headaches, cluster headaches, migraine headaches, and tension headaches. Read on for more information about the causes and symptoms of each.


  • Causes: Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes migraine headaches. They are much more common in women than men, however, and they do often run in families. If one of your parents suffer from migraines then you are more likely to suffer from them as well.
  • Symptoms: Common symptoms of a migraine headache include intense, throbbing pain on just one side of the head, which can then radiate down the side of the head into the face. This is often accompanied by a sensitivity or intolerance to bright light, loud sounds or strong smells. Some migraine sufferers also experience visual disturbances or nausea.
  • Treatments: Some migraine sufferers find relief with ibuprofen, aspirin or a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine, marketed as “Tylenol migraine.” Many prescription medications also exist that may help chronic migraine sufferers.
  • Non-medicinal relief: Some migraine sufferers benefit from other sources of relief such as resting in a dark room, meditation, taking herbal supplements such as magnesium or riboflavin or finding an acupuncture provider.

2. Cluster headaches

  • Causes: The causes of cluster headaches are also somewhat unclear but have been linked to smoking among other things.
  • Symptoms: People suffering a cluster headache experience a sudden, piercing headache that lasts between 15 minutes and three hours. The attack may abate and then return. These attacks may happen up to eight times a day in clusters. They tend to happen at the same time of day, however, over a period of weeks or months.
  • Treatments: People suffering from cluster headaches should see their doctor about a prescription for medication such as topiramate or sumatriptan, which can reduce the severity and frequency of the attacks.
  • Non-medicinal relief: in addition to medication, some sufferers of cluster headaches benefit from such interventions as oxygen therapy or supplements like melatonin.

3. Sinus Headaches

  • Causes: Sinus headaches are caused by a swelling of the sinus cavities of your head, the hollow areas under and around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead. This is usually the result of an infection or an allergy.
  • Symptoms: People suffering from a sinus headache feel a dull, throbbing pain in the area where the sinus cavities lie, and the pain often gets worse with movement. Sometimes, the pain can spread to the teeth or jaw. A sinus headache is accompanied by sinus drainage. If you are not experiencing drainage or nasal symptoms, the headache is not a sinus headache, but a migraine.
  • Treatments: In the case of a true sinus headache, and in the case of an infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. In the case of an allergy, a corticosteroid nasal spray may help reduce the swelling of nasal passages and alleviate the headache apin.
  • Non-medicinal relief: Some sufferers of sinus headaches find that warm compresses or the use of cold packs on the face and sinuses can relieve some pain and discomfort.

4.  Tension Headaches

  • Causes: One of the most common types of headaches, tension headaches can be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression. Other causes include dehydration, loud noises, lack of exercise, poor sleep, bad posture, skipped meals and eye strain.
  • Symptoms: Tension headaches give sufferers a dull, constant pain on both sides of their head, with a feeling of tenderness in the face, head neck and/or shoulders. There may be a feeling of pressure behind the eyes and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Treatments: Over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin can help a great deal with tension headaches, but people who have a tension headache for more than 15 days a month should see a doctor.
  • Non-medicinal relief: Other ways that you can get relief for a tension headache include: getting more sleep, exercising more often, regular stretching, stress management or seeking acupuncture.

To quickly and effectively remedy that pesky headache, it’s important to get to the root cause of your headache by taking note of all of your symptoms. Once you identify the type of headache you have, these treatments should have you on the path to feeling better in no time.