Have you been having headaches lately? You may think it’s just another migraine or that it’s because of stress, lack of sleep, or even from sleeping too much! You should look for the ‘culprit’ somewhere else. Headaches are one of the symptoms of sinusitis and it is estimated that as many as 5 million Poles suffer from it. How can you tell if you do too?
Why is it so painful?
What is it that makes problems with sinuses cause headaches? ‘Sinusitis is usually caused by viral infections. It causes swelling of the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity and the paranasal sinuses, which constricts the connection between them. As a result, mucus starts building up in the sinuses and the air that can’t freely escape starts pressing against their walls. The mucous membrane of the paranasal sinuses is highly innervated, which is why the patient experiences discomfort or pain,’ explains Dr Marta Held-Ziółkowska, a laryngologist from the Medicover Hospital. Although diseases of the sinuses are typically caused by viruses, untreated infections of the upper respiratory tract, often allergies, a deviated nasal septum, or staying in smoke-filled rooms can also cause problems, as all these factors can prevent unobstructed circulation of air in the upper airways.
What to pay attention to
Headaches caused by inflammation of the sinuses have a few characteristic features that make it easier to diagnose them. ‘It is typical that they manifest themselves with greater strength in the morning and intensify when you bend or in other situations that increase pressure (e.g. while coughing, blowing your nose, or during physical activity). Unpleasant sensations also intensify while pressing on or tapping the area where the sinusitis occurs. That’s where the pain is the strongest, but it may also radiate to the temples, the top of the head, or the neck,’ lists Dr Marta Held-Ziółkowska. It’s important to observe if the ailments occur together with other symptoms. The symptoms of sinusitis include rhinitis and a stuffy nose, sore throat, and mucus dripping down the back of the throat. Other less frequent symptoms include higher body temperature, a reduced sense of smell, a loss of appetite, hoarseness, and bad breath.
Don’t wait, treat
If you suspect that headaches or recurring rhinitis may be caused by diseases of the sinuses, don’t wait until it all goes away. ‘Some of the infections in the area of the sinuses actually do start spontaneously, but if the unpleasant symptoms continue for several weeks or longer you should see a doctor immediately. Disregarding them may result in a chronic inflammation, which is much harder to treat,’ explains Dr Marta Held-Ziólkowska.
An appointment with the doctor starts with an brief discussion about your symptoms – given that the problems with sinuses are fairly characteristic, a specialist can diagnose them relatively easily. The next step is instructing the patient to have tests done that will help diagnose the disease and to then plan the right treatment. If the cause is a viral infection, the therapy consists primarily of taking anti-edematous drugs or antibiotics subscribed by the doctor, typically for two weeks. ‘If this proves ineffective, we choose other methods such as balloon sinuplasty, a nasal saline lavage using the Hydrodebrider system, or endoscopic surgeries of the paranasal sinuses, which restore their proper ventilation,’ says Dr Marta Held-Ziólkowska. ‘These procedures are performed under direct vision using endoscopes to ensure precision during the entire procedure and also to limit the operative area to the inside of the nose, which doesn’t require cutting facial skin, making recovery much quicker,’ she adds.
Regardless of the cause of your prolonged headaches, they should not be ignored. It may be a sign of minor ailments, but also a symptom of serious conditions, in which case reacting quickly is essential to increase the chances of effective treatment.