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Why Do I Have Sinus Pressure or Sinus Pain? (Causes and Reasons)

November 20th, 2019 | 4 min. read

By Pavlina Suchanova, MD

sinus pressure pain

Sinus pressure and sinus pain occur when your nasal passage membranes become swollen or inflamed. A variety of factors can cause sinus pressure and pain, including having chronic sinusitis.

What Is Sinusitis?

Your sinuses are cavities filled with air and are situated:

  • Behind your forehead and eyebrows

  • Inside your cheeks' bony structure

  • In front of your brain, behind your nose

  • One either side of the bridge of your nose

Sinusitis is an inflammation of your sinuses. It can be of two forms:

  1. Acute sinusitis. If you have acute (temporary) sinusitis, it typically goes away after three to eight weeks on its own. 

  2. Chronic sinusitis. If you're dealing with chronic sinusitis, it lasts longer than eight weeks or more than 12 weeks occurring multiple times per year, and requires treatment. Chronic sinusitis symptoms can last for months, or even years. Some physicians will call sinusitis chronic instead of acute if it lasts a minimum of three months.

Why Do I Have Sinus Pressure or Sinus Pain?

Two common symptoms of chronic sinusitis are sinus pressure and sinus pain.

1)  Sinus Pressure Causes and Reasons

There are various causes of sinus pressure. A few factors can cause irritation of your nasal passages and bring about symptoms of sinus pressure. Some sinus pressure causes and reasons include:

  • Sinusitis. Usually referred to as a sinus infection, sinusitis can cause pressure and pain in your sinuses. You should discuss treatment options with your doctor if you suspect you're dealing with sinusitis (whether acute or chronic). Sinus infection, referred to as sinusitis, is a common health issue, impacting 31 million Americans.

  • Environmental irritants. Airborne pollutants like irritants that cause allergies could trigger sinus pressure and mucus build-up.

  • The common cold. All colds aren't the same, but in some cases, they can cause the symptom mucus build-up and this means sinus pressure.

2)  Sinus Pain Causes and Reasons

Sinus headache pain is frequently described as the sensation of increasing pressure overlying the blocked sinuses. This could be your frontal area (forehead) or your maxillary (cheek area). It could also be both.  The area of your face in the impacted sinus can be reddened and tender to the touch. You might experience swelling. Your pain can get worse when you change the position of your head or when you first get out of bed due to the increased sinus cavities pressure.

  • Inflamed sinuses. If the linings of your tubes or ducts connecting your sinuses to the back of your nose become inflamed, it could cause your sinuses to not drain normally and this can lead to a build-up of pressure within the blocked sinuses. 

  • Increased fluid and mucus secretion. You may also have an associated inflammation and swelling of the lining of your sinuses, leading to increased fluid and mucus secretion. This fluid and mucus increase together with the inability to drain properly increases pressure in your sinus cavity and can lead to sinus headache pain. Sinusitis can cause this inflammation of your sinuses.

Causes of Chronic Sinusitis

As you've just learned, chronic sinusitis can cause both sinus pressure and sinus pain. Generally, sinusitis is frequently caused by a bacterial infection. However, sometimes, viruses and molds (fungi) can cause it. If you have a weak immune system, you have a greater risk of developing a fungal or bacterial sinus infection. 

Some individuals can also suffer from "allergic fungal sinus infection", which afflicts those with allergies.  A sinus cavity infection that's near your brain can become fatal if you don't receive treatment. It can spread to your brain, although this is rare.

Sinusitis might be due to a viral infection and can lead to nose inflammation. This inflammation, along with the reduced ability of your sinuses to drain, could also be caused by hay fever, or another allergic reaction. The inflammation leads to the:

  • Increased fluid production and swelling

  • The sinuses can't drain effectively

  • The reduced drainage causes sinus headache pain

Some specific and common causes and reasons for chronic sinusitis are:

  • Tissue growths inside your nose known as polyps: These make it difficult for you to breathe from your nose and they block your sinuses.

  • Allergies: Allergies, particularly environmental allergies (like chemicals or pollen) or hay fever can cause inflammation of your nasal passages.

  • Infections in your windpipe, nose or lungs by bacteria or viruses (including colds): These are referred to as respiratory infections and can cause inflammation of your nose and make it difficult for mucus to properly drain from your nose.

  • An uneven tissue wall between the nostrils: Referred to as a deviated septum, this can limit the flow of air in one or both of your nostrils.


Treating Sinus Pressure and Pain Associated with Chronic Sinusitis

Fortunately, you have several treatment options for treating sinus pressure and sinus pain, including the below.

Home Remedies

If you believe you're suffering from sinusitis, you could try some home remedies first to help open your blocked sinuses and reduce swelling. For instance, you can:

  • Use nasal spray wash

  • Inhale steam

  • Use decongestants (nasal spray or by mouth)

  • Use ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for the pain

Allergy Medications

Since chronic sinusitis is frequently caused by allergy-related inflammation, diagnosing, treating and preventing allergies can help relieve sinusitis. There are allergy medicines that can help, including:

  • Decongestants

  • Antihistamines

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines

  • Leukotriene inhibitors

Corticosteroid nasal sprays may also help to relieve sinus inflammation and nasal swelling. You might require oral steroids like prednisone if these sprays don't help. You might require antibiotics along with your oral or nasal corticosteroids. If it's difficult to control your allergies, an allergy specialist can provide you with testing for specific allergies and treat your symptoms by administering immunotherapy (desensitizing shots).

Endoscopic Surgery

If you can't control your symptoms with medicines alone, see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor, who can determine if your sinuses need to be drained or if they need to widen your sinus openings with endoscopic surgery. This procedure uses small instruments and scopes to see and operate through your nasal passages so the doctor can get to your sinuses. If the sinus opening blockage is limited, the doctor may use balloon dilation of the area to help resolve the issue and avoid more invasive surgery.

There may also be other procedures that would be able to best help your specific condition such as the Vivaer Nasal Airway Remodeling procedure.

Contact your ENT doctor if you're not seeing an improvement in your symptoms after several days, if you notice a green or brown discharge, develop a fever, or are experiencing a sinus-related headache.

Contact Houston & Allergy Services for your Sinus Pressure and/or Pain

If you think you're suffering from chronic sinusitis or can't relieve your sinus pressure and/or sinus pain, contact Houston & Allergy Services to set up an appointment with one of our doctors.

We also encourage you to review our website to obtain more information about our office locations, doctors and the services we offer. Our friendly staff and doctors welcome you and your family to Houston & Allergy Services.


Learn More About Chronic Sinusitis Here

Pavlina Suchanova, MD

Dr. Suchanova is a Diplomate of the American Board of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery and a Fellow of the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. She is fluent in English, Czech, Slovak and conversational in Spanish.