You woke up with a throbbing headache and pressure behind your eyes, cheeks, or the bridge of your nose. What’s going on? Odds are your sinuses are to blame. “Sinus pain and pressure is something I treat patients for every single day,” says Hope Lounsbury, PA-C, the lead physician assistant for Mass General Brigham Urgent Care.
The causes of sinus pressure aren’t always straightforward. “But happily, treatments exist to ease the discomfort. And with the help of your clinician, you can get to the bottom of it and feel better soon,” Lounsbury adds.
Your sinuses are spaces in your skull, behind your forehead, nose, cheeks, and eyes. Normally, these spaces are filled with air. When you’re sick, they can become blocked with mucus.
Infections can also make your sinuses inflamed or swollen. That’s known as sinusitis—and it’s the main cause of sinus pressure.
Sinus pressure is usually caused by:
Sometimes, fungal infections can cause sinusitis. Those infections are more serious, but also much less common.
Sinusitis comes in two categories:
If you have nasal congestion or excess mucus and feel facial pressure or pain that gets worse when you bend forward, it’s probably sinus pressure, Lounsbury explains. “Where you feel the pressure depends on which sinus or sinuses are infected,” she adds.
Typically, you’ll experience sinus pressure:
The sinus pressure in those areas might also radiate to your ears, upper teeth, and jaw.
How can you tell what’s causing sinus pressure? It’s not always obvious, especially in the first few days. But there are some clues to look for, Lounsbury explains:
You don’t necessarily need to see your doctor at the first sign of sinus pressure. There are things you can try at home to bring relief:
If your symptoms haven’t gone away after 10 days, or seem to be getting worse instead of better, you might have a bacterial sinus infection. Some bacterial sinus infections go away on their own without antibiotics, Lounsbury notes. But a health care provider may prescribe antibiotics to help you fight the infection.
You don’t have to wait 10 days to see your provider, though. “If you’re unsure what’s causing your symptoms, or are unsure about what medications you can take, get checked out by a health care provider,” Lounsbury says. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Start by calling your PCP. Your doctor's office can recommend next steps and assist with any urgent issues. Many Mass General Brigham primary care practices for adults and children offer same-day, in-person, and virtual visits. If you don’t have a PCP or no appointments are available, you can go to urgent care.
Before you head into the clinic, it’s a good idea to take a home COVID test, Lounsbury adds. Headaches and sinus pressure are also common symptoms of COVID-19. “I’ve treated a lot of patients who were sure they had a sinus infection, but turned out to have COVID,” she says.
Doctors don’t always need to see you in person to diagnose and treat sinusitis and sinus infections. “A virtual visit is a great option for a lot of sinus problems,” Lounsbury says.
Mass General Brigham Virtual Urgent Care is open to all patients ages 3 and up, even if they haven’t seen a Mass General Brigham provider before. Patients who are new to Mass General Brigham may access on-demand care without an appointment. Existing patients can access the Virtual Urgent Care On-Demand option or schedule a visit through the Patient Gateway platform. This integration ensures continuity of care with your existing team.