Hay fever and sinus pressure may cause headaches. However, this pain is not a typical allergy symptom.

Two types of headaches are associated with allergies: sinus headaches and migraine headaches.

Overall, it is important to consult a doctor if headaches are persistent, worsening, or if they accompany other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light or noise.

In this article, we explore what people may mean by an “allergy headache,” as well as the link between this type of pain and an allergic reaction.

A person who may be experiencing an allergy headache pressing on the bridge of their nose.Share on Pinterest
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Some people use the term “allergy headache,” though there is no clear, widely accepted definition.

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, can cause a headache, possibly due to swelling in the sinus passages. However, headaches are not a typical symptom of hay fever.

Rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal passages, and it often results from an environmental allergy. In this case, the issue is called allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.

Hay fever can cause several symptoms, but a headache is not typical, researchers of a 2016 investigation observe.

Allergic rhinitis can lead to rhinosinusitis, which is inflammation of the nasal cavity and sinuses, and this can occasionally lead to headaches.

However, headaches commonly attributed to sinusitis may more often stem from migraine.

Both health issues can also cause a runny nose, nasal congestion, and watery eyes. Also, both may worsen due to changes in the weather and exposure to allergens. These similarities can lead to confusion.

Sinus headaches occur when the sinuses are swollen, obstructing the nasal passages and leading to a buildup of pressure. The result can be pain at the top of the head or behind the cheeks.

However, sinus headaches are fairly rare and usually only result from severe inflammation, as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology observe.

Meanwhile, an older study, from 2004, found that 88% of people who believed that they were having a sinus headache were actually having a migraine headache.

It can be difficult to distinguish between a headache caused by migraine and one caused by sinus inflammation and pressure.

A person having a sinus headache may feel pain at the top of the head or behind the cheeks.

If hay fever is responsible for a headache, the person may also experience:

  • itchiness in the nose, eyes, throat, and roof of the mouth
  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • a runny nose
  • watery eyes

Symptoms of rhinosinusitis include:

  • pain, tenderness, and swelling around the forehead, cheeks, and eyes
  • a stuffy nose
  • a reduced sense of smell
  • a sinus headache
  • a toothache
  • bad breath
  • mucus coming from the nose

Doctors use the following criteria to diagnose rhinosinusitis-induced headaches:

  • The headache is located at the front of the head.
  • The person may also experience pain in other areas, including the face, ears, or teeth.
  • The headache occurs simultaneously with other rhinosinusitis symptoms.
  • The headache and facial pain resolve within 7 days of treatment.

A person with migraine, meanwhile, may have a throbbing headache, typically on one side, that may occur with nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, or both.

Migraine can also cause a runny nose and watery eyes.

If a headache results from an allergy, hay fever may be the cause. The typical trigger is pollen, and others include:

  • mold spores
  • pet hair or dander
  • cockroaches
  • dust mites

Migraine triggers may include:

  • hormonal changes, such as those of menstruation
  • stress, depression, anxiety, and excitement
  • dietary triggers, including alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and the additive tyramine
  • medications, such as sleeping or birth control pills
  • environmental factors, including
    • flickering screens
    • strong smells
    • secondhand smoke
    • loud noises
    • stuffy rooms
    • temperature changes
    • bright lights
  • a lack of sleep
  • shoulder and neck tension
  • poor posture
  • too much exercise
  • low blood sugar
  • jet lag
  • irregular mealtimes
  • dehydration

It is important to avoid anything that triggers a headache or an allergic reaction. If the two seem to be linked, the following treatments may help:

  • over-the-counter pain relief medication
  • antihistamines
  • saline nasal sprays
  • oral or nasal decongestants
  • intranasal corticosteroids to reduce nasal congestion
  • immunotherapy, sometimes called “allergy shots”

Also, the following care strategies may help:

  • Apply a warm, moist washcloth to the face.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to thin any mucus causing stuffiness
  • Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water, with a towel draped over the head to help contain the steam.

Consult a doctor about any allergic reactions, especially if they are affecting daily activities or otherwise limiting the quality of life.

Allergies do not appear to be a common cause of headaches. It is important to consult a doctor about this type of pain, especially if:

  • Headaches are recurrent.
  • Pain relief medications are ineffective.
  • Headaches are worsening.
  • The pain occurs with:
    • nausea
    • sensitivity to light or noise
    • weakness in the arms or legs

It can be difficult to distinguish whether nasal inflammation and pressure or migraine is causing a headache.

If headaches recur or persist, it is important to seek medical care. Once a doctor identifies the cause, avoiding triggers and taking medication can help resolve the issue.