Sinuses Giving You a Headache? It's Probably Migraine.

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"It was hard to convince some of them that they actually suffered from Migraine headaches," said Dr. Eross. "Many were shocked."

About 12 percent of the U.S. population - or more than 35 million people - suffer from Migraines.1

One of 10 people in the study knew they suffered from Migraines, but thought they had sinus headaches in addition. They actually suffer from two different types of Migraines, one with sinus symptoms, one without, said Dr. Eross. While many got some pain relief by using non-prescription medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, Migraine-specific medications would be much more helpful, he said.

"Real" sinus headaches are almost always a side effect of a sinus infection, which is a very common ailment: 37 million Americans get at least one sinus infection every year, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Typical symptoms of a sinus infection are fever, swollen lymph nodes and a persistent green or yellow nasal discharge. If you don't have those symptoms and you've got the headache, you likely have Migraines, said Dr. Eross.

Ironically, researchers believe a few of the people in the study may have acquired sinus infections as a result of having a Migraine. Lengthy Migraine attacks can lead to swollen nasal membranes and closed off sinus passages, creating the perfect environment for an infection, said Dr. Eross.

But by far the majority of people in the study did not have sinus infections, and some had unnecessarily been prescribed antibiotics.

The study - called the Sinus Allergy & Migraine Study (SAMS) - included the first 100 people to answer an ad in the local newspaper asking for people who thought they had sinus headache. Each underwent an extensive 90-minute evaluation by researchers and some had imaging tests. Experts determined:

  • 63 percent were suffering from Migraines,
  • 23 percent had probable Migraine,
  • 9 percent had headaches that couldn't be classified,
  • 3 percent had headaches as a result of a sinus infection,
  • 1 percent had cluster headaches and
  • 1 percent had hemicrania continua, a rare type of chronic headache.

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