How do I destroy this sinus headache?
February 6, 2014 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I've tried everything I can think of. Halp!

It's raining in California. Yay! Bad sinus headache. Boo. It's just on the left side, and feels like it's at the top of the left sinus. I've taken a Mucinex D, a couple excedrin, and a benadryl. That was about 90 minutes ago. I did about 20 minutes on my "personal steam system" which has me breathing concentrated steam through a mask. It still feels like someone's putting an icepick into my left eye.

Let me know your magic remedies.

posted by colin_l to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I feel you - I get these headaches all the time and I hate them. Have you tried holding a cool cloth or insulated ice pack to your head? That's my go-to for whenever I have a headache that medicine can't kick. That, and lying in a very dark room with little stimulation, if that is possible for you right now.

Feel better!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:16 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do the opposite of above -I use a heating pad on the affected sinus, it seems to help get things moving and draining.
posted by kellyblah at 6:17 AM on February 6, 2014

You might need to get the decongestant behind the counter. The one that actually works. Go to the pharmacy and ask for a decongestant. Yes, you'll show your license and yes, you'll have to go in the book as someone who purchased some decongestant, but it will dry out your sinues and once that happens, you'll feel better.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:19 AM on February 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Heat. Here's a bizarre tip I learned from my eye doctor: you can use a hard boiled egg, microwaved for ~20 seconds or until hot and then wrapped in a washcloth) as an easy, face sized heating device.

Also, don't discount the possibility that you have an infection in there that will need antibiotics. If the pain doesn't pass, see an ENT.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:20 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with Ruthless Bunny. Go to the pharmacy and get a forreals decongestant. The kind that they make you register your driver's license and go on the meth cook watch list in order to buy.

That's the stuff that actually works.
posted by phunniemee at 6:24 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Neti pot and real decongestants.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:39 AM on February 6, 2014

Steroid nose spray!
posted by thirdletter at 6:49 AM on February 6, 2014

Advil Cold and Sinus. I usually only have to take it once or twice. The ibuprofen helps with swelling and the decongestant (that you have to sign for, yes) works.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:05 AM on February 6, 2014

Are you okay with standing with your face in a scalding hot shower until the hot water runs out?

Also Vicks and menthol lozenges get some things moving.

I am a big fan of carbonation - fizzy water at room temp, too. Although if club soda is not your thing, that probably won't help.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:08 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Any reason you can't take ibuprofen for the inflammation in there? Acetaminophen-based pills. like Excedrin, do nothing for my regular sinus headaches, nor my husband's. Ibuprofen can be quite helpful, though. (On preview, seconding Marie Mon Dieu.)
posted by Coatlicue at 7:10 AM on February 6, 2014

Thanks - I'll give the ibuprofen a shot. FYI - the 'D' in Mucinex D (as in Claratin D, etc) is for the pseudoephedrine, the good stuff.
posted by colin_l at 7:16 AM on February 6, 2014

Oh, and this may be a more technical followup question for any doctors who are not my doctor, but if I've already had a turbinate reduction (~3 years ago), would I expect anti inflamatories to be less-than-otherwise-effective for this sort of thing?
posted by colin_l at 7:23 AM on February 6, 2014

The single side stabby pain sounds a lot like my fiance's migraines. She likes a hot, hot shower.

A trick my friend uses to clear sinuses is microwave a small thing of vinegar. Inhale. Nasty but pretty effective eye-watering sinus clearing
posted by Jacen at 7:26 AM on February 6, 2014

Use a vibrator on your face. Turn your head to different orientations while you slowly move it around in the area of your sinus.

Also, wasabi sometimes helps.

Make sure you are well hydrated.
posted by yohko at 7:33 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone prone to sinus infections all the above are great suggestions. I find a nice spicy hit and sour soup helps open everything up. I have high blood pressure do can't take the behind the counter good sinus medicine do live on soup, ibuprofen and eucalyptus oil in a steamer when my sinuses gunk up.
posted by wwax at 7:42 AM on February 6, 2014

A friend of mine goes to a homeopathic nutrition person who put a small dab of peppermint oil on each cheek and her forehead to open up her sinuses. She said it worked like a charm. Here's a link also about it.
posted by yoga at 7:48 AM on February 6, 2014

@Jacen - what do you do with the vinegar? Drink it, or inhale the steam?
posted by colin_l at 7:51 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

ugh, god no on the drinking! Just get within roughly five feet of it and gag a bit :) I'm not sure its even possible to drink it, it smells so strongly :)

so, yeah, just a few gentle breaths at fairly close range
posted by Jacen at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

+1 on the hot/warm shower directly onto the aching side of your face, followed by a tylenol, eating something sweet enough for a sugar rush, and drinking an espresso-equivalent of caffeine. Then waiting in a comfortable dark room for the combination to kick in and relieve the pressure.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:17 AM on February 6, 2014

liquids. drink lots of liquids. a pharmacist once told me that guaifenesin, the active ingredient in mucinex (although the D variety, which you've taken, has the very necessary pseudoephedrine) is only marginally more effective than drinking a lot of water. and the directions state you're supposed to have it with a full glass, anyway. drink lots of water.
posted by mikeh at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

1+ the idea you might need to treat this differently than for sinus issues. My doc told me sharp pain on one side only is more often a migraine than a sinus thing (you can get migraine pain in your sinus areas, by your ears, and even down in your jaw). Ice pick through one eye is EXACTLY how mine feel, and I get them with the barometric changes such as this one.

I hope you feel better soon!
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 8:49 AM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first really useful thing I learned on the internet (before the days of the web) was that 90% or more of sinus headaches are actually migraines. Ibuprofen is often effective for a migraine. A dose of caffeine at the same time can make it even more effective.
posted by Ery at 8:50 AM on February 6, 2014

I just read somewhere that a large percentage of what people think are sinus headaches are actually migraines. So if this happens a lot it's something you might want to get checked out.
posted by catatethebird at 8:51 AM on February 6, 2014

(Or uh what Ery said. Ha)
posted by catatethebird at 8:54 AM on February 6, 2014

Thirding what Ery said about this sounding like a migraine. Since you already took excedrin, you're going to have a wait a good while before taking any ibuprofen. The excedrin contains caffeine as well so you've got that covered, though I suppose a cup of hot tea or coffee is worth a shot.

I'd try a hot washcloth draped across your face and laying down in a dark room. Sleep is usually what fixes a migraine for me. Ibuprofen and sleep.
posted by purple_bird at 9:07 AM on February 6, 2014

I had a sinus infection about a month ago, and it got so unbearable I wound up going to the doctor (where I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and got antibiotics). Outside of the antibiotics, I was prescribed/recommended:
  • saline spray;
  • flonase spray;
  • Sudafed;
  • Cough syrup with codeine (I didn't have much cough, but the codeine helped the pain!);
When my nose started being able to run again I felt much better. So do what you can to keep the various tubes open. The sprays keep the passages moist and not plugged with dry matter. The sudafed keeps the tubes open. The pain drugs help what is a really painful pressure situation. If it doesn't improve soon, go see the doctor and rule out a bacterial infection.
posted by norm at 9:55 AM on February 6, 2014

I get these. Sadly, I find that preventing them by taking Mucinex D *before* the eye stabby pain begins is the best strategy. (When I lived in the Bay Area, I took Mucinex D daily with the blessing of my doctor to prevent these headaches. I am totally noted in the Mucinex D customer books.) If the eye-stabby pain is in its full throes, I find Neti pot rinses intensely painful/burning, but I normally do it anyway out of desperation and for the mild relief that comes from experiencing an entirely different type of pain. I do believe that the Neti pot helps (after the first 10 minutes of TERRIBLE BURNING subsides), and provides some release of pressure for the next ~30 minutes. (Note to all reading this: I know how to use a Neti pot; the terrible burning only occurs when I am already in awful sinus pain. I just grit my teeth through it.)

Unfortunately, my current go-to solution to these headaches is to take Mucinex D, leave work, drink a lot of water, do a Neti pot nasal rinse, take a hot steamy shower, then go to sleep until the pain stops. Not ideal, but I normally wake up functional again.

(I think sinus pain is the worst physical pain I have ever felt.)
posted by samthemander at 10:21 AM on February 6, 2014

Pressing my thumb onto my eyebrow near the nose seems to help me a bit. I tell myself it helps with drainage, or maybe I just like the way it feels when I stop. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by sageleaf at 11:05 AM on February 6, 2014

Do what yohko says, sometimes vibrations on the face really help.

It's not really clear whether you have a sinus headache or a migraine, it could be either. Did you take excedrine migraine, with the caffeine? I would probably drink a coffee or a soda.

Other things you might want to try: a sinus rinse, saline nose spray, steroid nose spray if you can get it.
posted by inertia at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2014

I was certain I had chronic sinus headaches. My awesome doc was able to diagnose it as cervicogenic migraine and pretty much change my whole quality of life. So it might not even be a sinus headache.
I always wondered why decongestants and OTC NSAIDs never seemed to help.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:07 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, Sudafed will probably help with your sinus headache. Ask for it by name at the pharmacy but say the generic is OK. The active ingredient is pseudoephedrine.
Ask for the regular red ones, not time release. They will need to see your drivers license, but whatever. It's like $3 for a big box at Target's pharmacy.
posted by w0mbat at 3:16 PM on February 6, 2014

And the winner is: hot and sour soup!

Many thanks, all
posted by colin_l at 7:36 PM on February 6, 2014

Do you have anything like Otrivine (xylometazoline) in the US? That usually does the trick for me when my sinuses are filled; otherwise for me there's nothing else for it than some ibuprofen (Nurofen Plus - ibuprofen with codeine - if it's really bad) and a darkened room.
posted by macdara at 8:51 AM on February 14, 2014

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