What is sinus pain?

Cold & Flu Sinus Pain

What is sinus pain?

Sinus pain combines the familiar symptoms of a cold, like a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough, with pain and tenderness in the face.

Understanding the sinuses

The 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 makes it hard for air and mucus to escape from the sinus, putting pressure on the sinus walls.1 This can result in a throbbing pain that feels worse when you move the head,2 a toothache, or even pain in the jaw when eating.2

Stamping out sinus pain

To ease sinus congestion and 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 the face several times a day.3
  • Use a steam inhalation two to four times a day – for example, inhale the steam from a bowl of hot water, place a towel over your head to keep the steam in.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 the 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 cold symptoms and sinus pain continue for 10 days or more, or the symptoms become worse within 10 days of the cold getting better, it is important to see a doctor.4

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