What Causes Sinus Pain?

Malcolm Tatum

Sinus pain is a condition that most people experience at one time or another. In some cases, the pain is relatively minor and can be treated quickly and effectively. Other causes for sinus pain are more severe and require more aggressive attention in order to correct the problem.

Sleeping with the head elevated at night is a common sinus congestion remedy.
Sleeping with the head elevated at night is a common sinus congestion remedy.

Swelling is often at the root of sinus pain. When the sinuses become inflamed, the cilia are unable to move mucus. As a result, bacteria will build and increase the swelling. Unless the problem is treated immediately, there is a good chance that the sinus pain will be accompanied with a sense of feeling as if the head is full. The ears may also suffer as the infection impacts the function of the Eustachian tubes. Often, antibiotics will help to kill the infection and allow healing to commence.

Sinus pain is often cause be allergies.
Sinus pain is often cause be allergies.

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Bacterial or viral infections are not the only common causes of sinus pain. Often, allergies can also trigger a great deal of discomfort in the nasal passages. Treating the allergy, as well as avoiding the allergens that created the pain, will help to alleviate the stuffiness and reduce the swelling.

Smoking may contribute to sinus pain.
Smoking may contribute to sinus pain.

Swimming and diving can also lead to sinus pressure and congestion. Just as some people are subject to ear infections when getting water in the ear canal, others can develop nasal congestion and a runny nose after contact with salt water or even the chlorinated water found in swimming pools. Taking care to use nose plugs can help to minimize the chances of developing an infection and enduring a great deal of sinus pain.

Scuba diving can cause sinus pain.
Scuba diving can cause sinus pain.

Smoking cigars or cigarettes can also lead to the development of sinus pain. The reaction varies, with some people experiencing a painful dryness in the nasal passages. Others find that the smoke irritates the sensitive tissue and causes swelling that can be very uncomfortable. Avoiding the use of tobacco or staying away from enclosed spaces where smoking is taking place is usually sufficient to prevent nasal congestion.

A sinus infection accompanied by congestion can cause sinus pain.
A sinus infection accompanied by congestion can cause sinus pain.

Along with outside stimuli, sinus pain may have its origins in a physical condition. Some people have growths in the nasal passages and cavity that are known as polyps. Should the polyps expand enough to block the passages, a great deal of sinus congestion can take place and lead to the development of infection. Surgery can be employed to correct the situation and prevent polyps from causing any type of pain.

With any type of sinus pain, it is important to seek medical attention quickly. Delaying treatment only allows the origin of the sinus condition to worsen. By seeking treatment early on, the severity and duration of the pain can be minimized significantly and allow sufferers of sinus pain to get on with living.

A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.
A cross section of the head, including the sinuses.

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Discussion Comments


I spent the last two winters in Tucson, and I have sinus pain all year round now. I never had it this severe before. I lived in Canada, and the allergy was short lived for a few months. I believe it is Arizona.


@ giraffeears- If your sinus pain is related to dust or particulate, I can recommend a good treatment. A Neti pot works great to relieve sinus pain. A Neti pot is essentially a miniature teapot that you use to flush your sinuses. You can buy little packets of nasal salt to mix with warm water and use in your Neti pot. I use it about once a week just to rejuvenate my sinuses. You should try a Neti pot it might help.


@ GiraffeEars- I am not an expert on severe sinus pain, but I am in the field of environmental science and sustainability. My experience makes me think that you are having sinus problems because of the dusty atmosphere in the city you live in.

Phoenix ranks in the bottom ten for air quality in the 50 largest cities in the country. Surprisingly the largest contributor to Phoenix's air pollution problem is dust. The lack of rain and the fact that you are surrounded by desert makes the area a giant dust bowl. I went to ASU, and I don't know if you noticed that a layer of dust will accumulate on a vehicle within two days if it has not rained in a while. It can pile up in a day if it has been windy without rain.


I have chronic sinus pain and it is the worst. I have a suspicion that it is an allergy to the type of environmental contaminants found in my city. I have lived in phoenix for about three years now, and ever since I moved here, I have had almost year round sinus problems. I have lived in Los Angeles and had no problems, so I know it isn't smog. Before moving to Arizona, I lived in Vermont, and I would only have sinus problems during the first hay harvest of the year. That was mostly pollen related and was short lived. Does anyone have any ideas about what might cause my sinus problems? Any type of relief would be a godsend right now.

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