Leonel Limonte, M.D.
If you have ever missed work because of a severe headache you are certainly not alone. Migraine headaches are the third most common illness in the world, with an estimated 37 million Americans suffering migraines at least occasionally, costing the country billions of dollars in medical care and lost productivity each year. Additionally, 1 in 10 school-aged children suffer from migraine headaches.
One of the more challenging aspects of treating headache conditions is distinguishing between the various types – most notably, the difference between a migraine and a sinus headache. Recent research revealed that headaches have been frequently misdiagnosed and mistreated.
We find that self-diagnosed sinus headaches are nearly ALWAYS migraines. A sinus headache is actually a migraine accompanied by sinus symptoms, which makes self-diagnosis difficult and inadvisable if you are a regular or chronic sufferer.
The confusion is not surprising, as the symptoms and causes have many similarities, and in both cases the pain occurs near and around the sinus cavity. Sinus headache – or sinusitis – is associated with a pus-like nasal discharge that represents a potential infection in the sinuses. Migraine may be associated with watery eyes and runny nose, but the fluid is clear and not the cause of the pain. Sinus headaches are not normally disabling, while migraine pain can be severe to disabling.
The key distinguishing features of migraine are:
Ask yourself these questions, known as the ID Migraine Questionnaire developed by Dr. Richard Lipton:
If you answered ‘yes’ to two of these three questions, migraine is the likely diagnosis 93% of the time. If all three are true, there is a 98% chance the diagnosis is migraine.
Most patients included in the recent research studies who complained of ‘sinus headache’ were taking a large amount of over the counter and prescription decongestants, antihistamines, nasal sprays, analgesics and NSAIDS, but expressed significant dissatisfaction with the results.
An effective method for diagnosing your headaches with certainty is to ask your doctor for a migraine-specific medication. Try the migraine medicine for your next three ‘sinus headaches’ and evaluate the impact on symptom relief, compared to the sinus medicines you’ve used in the past.
In some cases, your physician may recommend a more extensive evaluation, such as a CT scan of your sinuses to rule out sinus disease, or an MRI to rule out any issues associated with the brain. These diagnostics can help reassure you that your condition is truly a migraine, and that you are treating it appropriately.
Determining the right cause frequently leads to the appropriate solution and path to relief. To find a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of headaches, visit www.PecosValleyDocs.com, or call us at Pecos Valley Neurology at (575) 628-0107. We are accepting new patients, and are located at 2420 W. Pierce, Suite 101.
About the Author:
Dr. Leonel Limonte is the Chief of Staff at Carlsbad Medical Center. He is board certified in neurology, neuromuscular medicine and brain injury medicine. His office, Pecos Valley Neurology, is located at 2420 W. Pierce, Suite 101. For more information or to request an appointment, please call (575) 628-0107 or visit www.PecosValleyDocs.com.
2430 West Pierce
Carlsbad, NM 88220