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Causes of Sinus Pain and Pressure

Sinus pressure and pain result from inflammation and congestion in your sinuses. Sinuses are air-filled cavities in the facial bones. They lighten the bones in your head and provide resonance for speech. When the drainage system for your sinuses becomes clogged, pressure builds, causing headaches and facial, nose, and teeth pain.

Common Causes of Sinus Pain and Pressure

Any illness or medical condition that causes increased inflammation in the sinuses can cause sinus pain and pressure, including the following:

  • Severe allergies: severe allergy symptoms cause inflammation and swelling in the sinuses.
  • Environmental irritants: exposure to pollution, dry air, cold air, and certain chemicals can irritate the lining of the sinuses, causing pain and pressure.
  • Infections: viral, bacterial, and fungal infections of the sinuses can cause inflammation and acute or chronic sinus pain.
  • Structural abnormalities: a deviated septum can block the opening to the sinuses, typically causing pain and pressure on one side of the face.
  • Polyps: these benign growths in the nasal or sinus cavities can cause blockage, leading to sinus pain and pressure.

There are many potential causes of sinus pain and pressure. Decongestants, saline nasal washes, and steroid sprays can help relieve your symptoms, but you need an accurate diagnosis. For this, a medical evaluation is essential. Find an online doctor on call and make an appointment. They will discuss your symptoms, provide an online diagnosis, and prescribe appropriate medications to relieve sinus pain and pressure.

Who Is At Risk for Sinus Pain?

Certain medical conditions and other factors can increase your risk for sinus pain and pressure.

  • Allergic conditions: people with hay fever and other allergic conditions are at increased risk for sinus pain and pressure.
  • Structural abnormalities: deviated septum, nasal polyps, or tumors in the nose or sinuses can increase the risk for sinus pain.
  • Medical conditions: medical conditions associated with thickened mucus, such as cystic fibrosis, or immune system disorders, such as HIV/AIDS, may increase the risk of sinus pain and pressure.  
  • Exposure to pollutants or smoke: living in a high-pollution area of the country or being exposed to smoke can increase inflammation in your sinuses, which can cause pain and pressure.
A woman with a graphic showing her sinuses

When To See a Doctor

Schedule an appointment with a doctor any time, day or night, to discuss your sinus symptoms and receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment. Get advice on relieving your symptoms and discuss signs and symptoms that may indicate a more serious condition.

Contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A persistent fever
  • Symptoms that last longer than 7 to 10 days
  • Symptoms that worsen after initially improving
  • A history of sinus problems
  • Signs of a sinus infection
  • Headache that worsens or persists
  • Medical conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection

See a doctor immediately if you have these signs and symptoms, as they may indicate a serious infection or medical condition:

  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Vision changes
  • Redness or swelling around your eyes or eyelids
  • Stiff neck
  • Lethargy
Sinus x-rays

Medical Treatments

Depending on the cause of your sinus pain and pressure, here are some potential treatments your doctor may prescribe:

  • Decongestants: These medications cause blood vessels lining the nose and sinuses to narrow, which allows air to move more easily through the nose and sinuses. Decongestants can also increase sinus drainage and relieve pressure.
  • Antihistamines: These medications block the effects of histamine and treat many symptoms associated with allergies.
  • Steroid nasal spray: These medications ease swelling in the nose and sinuses, relieving pressure and making breathing easier.
  • Antibiotics: These medications may be prescribed if your doctor believes your symptoms are from a bacterial sinus infection.

Home Remedies

To thin mucus and clean the sinuses, consider trying these home remedies:

  • Saline nasal sprays and washes
  • Decongestants
  • Vaporizers
  • Steroid nasal sprays
  • Drinking hot liquids
  • Warm compresses

Long-term Complications

Though these are rare, there are potential long-term complications from untreated sinusitis, including the following:

  • Chronic sinusitis: untreated sinusitis may cause inflammation that persists or worsens over time, causing chronic sinusitis.
  • Spread of infection: if untreated, an infection can spread from the sinuses to the eyes, bones, spinal fluid, or brain. These infections are serious and potentially life-threatening.
  • Difficulty breathing: chronic nasal congestion can make getting air in and out of the upper airway difficult.
  • Fatigue: prolonged nasal congestion and poor sleep can increase fatigue.
  • Reduced sense of smell and taste: sensory receptors in the nose need access to odorants in food for you to enjoy the aroma and flavor of foods. Nasal congestion can prevent odorants from binding to smell receptors on the roof of the nose.
  • Dental problems: chronic mouth breathing reduces saliva production and can increase dental issues.
  • Mucocele: these cysts are filled with mucus and develop in the paranasal sinuses. Sinus mucoceles may put pressure on surrounding tissue and block sinus drainage.


While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.