Sinus Congestion vs Head Congestion: How To Differentiate Between The Two

Do you know the difference between sinus congestion and head congestion? If not, find out in this article as ENT specialist explains everything.

Chanchal Sengar
Written by: Chanchal SengarPublished at: Aug 17, 2021Updated at: Aug 17, 2021
Sinus Congestion vs Head Congestion: How To Differentiate Between The Two

Your nose feeling stuffy and your head feeling heavy, this is congestion that takes a toll on your sinuses. But sometimes it is just head congestion that is a sign of cold. Sometimes, it is a very miserable feeling as you are unable to identify the problem. As per Dr. Manusrut, Consultant ENT and Cochlear Implant Surgeon at Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad, sinus congestion generally causes headache whereas head congestion triggers a migraine. Both of these conditions may sound similar but are different in terms of causing factors, complications and treatment. If you encounter congestion often, read this article to understand what type of congestion it could be.

Head Congestion Vs. Sinus congestion: Symptoms

Headaches are a common symptom and initial symptoms of Facial pain, headache and congestion can be confusing to make a diagnosis of Sinusitis or Migraine.

  • Sinus headaches occur in the area of cheeks, between the eyes, or deep-seated pain.
  • Patients usually complain of Facial heaviness, feeling of fullness in the head.
  • It is usually associated with nasal discharge trickling down the throat, and nose block.
  • Initial episodes of cold may resolve in a week, but there can be persistent headaches and facial congestion.

This is termed Chronic Rhinosinusitis and patients may also have facial swelling, swelling below the eyes and skin discoloration.

Head Congestion Vs. Sinus congestion

Chronic sinus symptoms can be mistakenly diagnosed as Migraine. Patients with Migraine present with abrupt onset of headaches which are usually one-sided and persist for long, until the patient takes a pain killer or takes rest.

  • The pain can also be in front of the head, facial area and may radiate to behind the head and neck.
  • These patients are irritable during the episode, avoiding light and sound.
  • Nausea is a common associated symptom.
  • The headaches have a preceding stimulating factors like stress, fasting, exposure to sunlight etc. Sometimes a sinus headache can also trigger a Migraine.

Causes of Sinus Congestion and Head Congestion

Sinuses are air-filled cavities in the facial skeleton. These are present to make the skull light. These cavities are connected with nasal cavities through narrow openings. These spaces are lined with nasal mucosa which produces mucus round the clock. This mucus humidifies the air we breathe. Repeated colds cause swelling of the sinus mucosa leading to blockage of the narrow sinus opening and drainage pathways.

Migraine headaches are caused by the impromptu firing of neural networks in the brain.

Treatment Options

Sinus headaches are caused by the accumulation of mucus in facial sinuses. These patients need a thorough evaluation by an ENT. Patients may also undergo a nasal endoscopy and a CT scan for diagnosis. These patients are initially treated with decongestant medications, nasal sprays, saline nasal washes. Some patients with persistent symptoms need sinus surgery for relief. Sinus surgery is also known as FESS (functional endoscopic sinus surgery) is a day care endoscopic procedure. The aim of the surgery is to widen the sinus openings preventing repeated infections and headaches. It improves the functioning of the sinuses.

Also Read: Manage Migraine With Bhramari Pranayama or Humming Bee Breathing Technique

Treatment of sinus

Migraine patients are treated with painkillers to decrease the headache inane anxiety episode. They also are given prophylactic medication to decrease the acute episodes.


It is important to differentiate Sinus headaches from migraines as the treatment protocols are completely contrasting. People are confused whether they have a headache(sinus congestion) or it is a sign of migraine(head congestion). Now that the concept of both is clear, you should be able to differentiate between the two. Also, if the headache persists for longer, instead of self-medicating yourself, consult a physician. In case of acute congestion, visit an ENT specialist for a checkup and get treated accordingly. There is no point in wasting time and taking unnecessary medications that might or might not work for you.

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