Sinuses are vital parts of the nasal system. They produce mucus that helps attack bacteria in the throat and stomach. If too much mucus forms in the sinuses, the nasal passage cannot adequately drain, and inflammation or infection occurs. Symptoms of sinus infection vary dramatically and can mirror many other conditions. One of the most common symptoms of sinus pressure is a throbbing headache that manifests itself around the sinuses. A deep pain in the eye sockets can form as well. Eye pain from sinus infections is usually a result of the pressure associated with sinus inflammation. In rare cases, sinus infections can spread to the eye, resulting in a much more serious condition.
As sinus infection or inflammation occurs, the sinuses swell and mucus cannot properly drain. The increase in mucus and the narrow passage through which it tries to escape creates pressure in the sinuses that leads to pain. Because the sinuses surround the ocular region, the pressure from sinuses may feel like eye pressure. Moreover, swollen sinuses and nasal membranes can push against ocular nerves resulting in pain. Pooled mucus can result in infection that increases the pain in the sinus and ocular region even more.
Although mucus build-up is the primary cause of sinus pain and any associated eye pain, other factors can block your sinuses as well. Conditions as far-ranging as nasal polyps, tooth infection, a deviated septum and gastroesophageal reflux disease can result in sinus infection and subsequent pain in the eye region.
According to the National Institute of Health and the University of Maryland Medical Center, eye pain associated with sinus infections feels like pressure or build-up behind the eyes or in the space between the nose and the eyes. This persistent dull ache that radiates from the eyes to other parts of the facial region. A throb may be felt behind the eyes as well. If the sinus infection occurs in the sinus cavities closest to the eyes, the eyes themselves may bulge and become red.
Eye pain associated with sinus infections usually clears once the sinus pressure dissipates. For serious infections, antibiotics may be required. In many cases, sinus pressure can be relieved through home care. The University of Maryland Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic recommend methods such as steam inhalation through a hot shower or kettle, warm compresses placed over the eyes and sleeping with a humidifier. As the sinuses drain, the pressure on the ocular nerves and other regions will diminish. For immediate relief of eye pain related to sinuses, over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol and Advil can help. These medicines reduce swelling as well, which gives the sinus cavities more space to drain the mucus. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to assist the draining of the mucus and relieve sinus and ocular pressure.
The best way to prevent a sinus infection is to recognize early signs of sinus inflammation. As pressure begins to build in the sinuses and transfers to the eyes, immediately seek ways to drain the sinuses. Nasal sprays can assist in drainage, but medicinal decongestants only provide relief for a few days before they have more detrimental effects on the nasal passage. Saline spray is a safer, but less immediate, way to clear up the sinus cavities.
If you suffer from sinus inflammation and/or infection that results in ocular pain, avoid rapid changes in elevation, pressure from flying or diving and temperature.
The Mayo Clinic notes that in rare cases, the infection of the sinus cavity can spread to the eye or eye socket itself. Should you experience a loss of eye movement, vision problems, swollen eyelids and/or pupil fluctuations, seek immediate medical evaluation. These symptoms may indicate a serious ocular or orbital (i.e., eye socket) infection. To prevent permanent damage, you will need to take antibiotics to attack the infection.