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Sinuses are air-filled pockets that create mucus to moisturize our noses, humidify the air for us to breathe, and improve the quality of our voices. They’re located behind the bridge of your nose, into the cheeks bones, and up into the forehead. We often confuse sinus infections with migraines because the pain sensation and location of the headache is similar. Understanding the cause behind your sinus pain can help you choose the treatment that will make you feel better.

Pain in the sinuses is caused by allergy-induced inflammation, or an infection. When bacteria, fungi, or a virus enter the sinus cavities, white blood cells flood to the area to start healing the body. This process causes swelling and inflammation of the area. Inflammation is a sign that the immune system is working to alleviate the infection. The swelling of the sinus can result in pressure and pain in the face, in part because the channels that normally drain mucus become blocked. Sufferers may also feel like their ears are blocked, and have a runny nose. The most common symptom associated with a sinus infection is a fever; it is critical that you treat the fever as soon as possible.

The remedy for a sinus infection is antibiotics from the doctor. You may also need pain relievers and decongestants depending on the blockage in your sinuses. Sinus infections are very common and treatable with the help of a doctor. The best way to prevent an infection is to wash your hands before touching your face, drinking water daily, and ensuring your nasal passages are moist (regular inhaling of hot steam).

Contrarily, sinus pain caused by allergies is sometimes hard to prevent if it’s a hereditary condition you face every year. When something you’re allergic to (pet dander, pollen, mold, etc.) enters your nasal cavities, your sinuses will swell in hopes of flushing out the allergen. You can feel the same pressure and pain as with a sinus infection, however there are key differences that signify you have allergies and not an infection. Usually, with allergies, your symptoms will only appear when you are around an allergen. When you remove that trigger, the runny nose, swollen sinuses, and face pressure should also leave. Additionally, allergies are not accompanied by a fever, pain in your teeth, or unusually bad breath- but sinus infections are. The best ways to prevent sinus pain from allergies are to avoid triggers, and to take medication either over the counter or prescribed by your doctor.

In very rare cases, surgery may be required to remove the polyps that grow in the nasal cavity lining. These polyps can grow too large when your sinuses are constantly swollen from infection or allergies. Always begin treating your symptoms the moment you know the cause.

Although the pain from sinus infections and allergies can feel like sinus headache pain, they are caused by very different things and need to be treated differently as well. To promote your best health, be aware of the frequency of your sinus pain and any other symptoms that accompany it. Understanding the cause is the first step to knowing the most efficient treatment.