What is Sinus Pain?

What is Sinus Pain

What is sinus pain?

If you’ve ever struggled with the misery of a cold, then you are familiar with the stuffy or runny nose, the sneezing, the sore throat and the cough. But if you’ve experienced these symptoms along with pain and tenderness in the face too, you likely have sinus pain. Sinus pain happens when your sinuses are blocked.

Understanding the sinuses

Did you know your sinuses are actually four pairs of air-filled cavities in your head?1 They’re found behind the forehead, inside each cheekbone, at either side of the bridge of the nose and behind the eyes.2 Each sinus opens into the nose and is connected to the nasal passage. 1 Their role is to ensure the air coming in through the nose has the right temperature and water content before it goes to your lungs.2 The sinuses also produce mucus that drains through the nose.2

Unfortunately, when you have a cold, the inflamed nasal passages cause congestion (stuffy nose).This traps air within a blocked sinus along with pus and other secretions putting pressure on the sinus walls and leaving you in pain.1 This can be a throbbing pain that feels worse when you move your head.2 You might also have a toothache or pain in your jaw when you eat.2

Stamping out sinus pain

To ease sinus congestion and, consequently, your pain, there are a few things you can do:

Drink plenty of fluids to help thin the mucus in the sinuses.3

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth to your face several times a day.3
  • Use a steam inhalation two to four times a day – for example, sit in the bathroom with the shower running.3
  • Avoid dry places1 and use a humidifier to keep the air moist.3
  • Use a saline spray several times a day as this can remove thick mucus and help the sinus to drain.3
  • Avoid things that can irritate the nose, such as cigarette smoke or strong perfumes.2
  • To keep pain to a minimum, avoid sudden changes in temperature or bending your head down.3

Medication can also help. Pain relievers, such as paracetamol, can relieve sinus pain and, therefore, help relieve any tenderness in your face. Decongestants can ease a blocked nose and come in a number of forms such as drops or sprays.  Some products are available that combine analgesics with decongestants to tackle sinus pain on both fronts.  As with all medications, it’s important to only use them as recommended, so always check the label.

When to see your doctor

For most people, sinus pain will clear up once their cold is over. But sometimes bacteria can get into the sinuses causing an infection called sinusitis.1 If you continue to have cold symptoms and sinus pain for 7 days or more, or your symptoms get worse within 7 days of your cold getting better, go and see your doctor as you may have sinusitis that needs to be treated.4

Although sinus pain is uncomfortable, it can be just a regular symptom of the common cold and, like colds, it can be easily brought under control.


  1. US National Institutes for Health. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Sinus infection (sinusitis). Available at:
    http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/sinusitis/Pages/Index.aspx. Accessed August 2010.
  2. UK NHS Choices. Sinusitis. Available at:
    http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sinusitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed August 2010.
  3. US Medline Plus. Sinusitis. Available at:
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000647.htm. Accessed August 2010.
  4. Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline: adult sinusitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg, 2007; 137 (3 Suppl):S1-31.