How to Diagnose Sinus Cavities in the Head

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Checking for sinus problems
Checking for sinus problems (Image: eyes00 image by alfpok from Fotolia.com)

Recurring headaches, sharp pains in your face or head, a dull ache above your teeth, a constant sore throat, persistent bad breath and pressure below and above your eyes are all signs of sinus problems. These symptoms often mimic other health problems and it can be difficult sometimes to determine the cause of your pain. Here's how to diagnose problems with sinus cavities.

Things You'll Need

  • Mirror
  • Flashlight

Learn where sinus cavities are located. Many people are surprised to learn how far the sinus cavities in the head extend. There are sinus cavities in your forehead, located above the brow bone on both sides, extending up several inches and, in some people, nearly all the way to the curve at the edge of the forehead. There are also sinus cavities on each side of your nose, that extend up to below the eye, and almost down to the top of the jaw. Of course, there are also sinus cavities within your nose, and they extend up between your eyes.

The sheer size of the sinus cavities in the head is the reason infections, irritation or other sinus problems can cause pain in so many different areas of the head.

Consider the site where you are having pain or problems. Is it near a sinus cavity? Headaches occurring in the front of the head, with pain in the forehead, are likely to be caused by sinus problems. Pressure above or below the eyes, between the eyes or along your cheekbones are also signs of sinus problems. Even a pain that feels similar to a toothache can actually be a sign of sinus problems.

Feel your sinus cavities. This is one of the easiest ways to tell whether you have an infection, an allergic reaction or another problem in your sinus cavities. Using two fingers, lightly apply pressure on your forehead, cheeks and between the eyes. If you feel tenderness, pain or swelling, it is likely you have a sinus infection or other problem with your sinuses.

If the pain is near the jaw line, or it feels as though you have a toothache, compare the difference in pain when you touch your face near the sinus cavity and when you touch the tooth. If the pain is significantly greater near the sinus cavity, it is most likely a sinus problem.

Consult your health care provider if you have pain that is interfering with your daily activities.

Observe whether there is any mucus or blockage in your nose, whether you are having a nasal drip, and whether the mucus is clear.

Close your mouth and take a deep breath through your nose. Is there any blockage or difficulty breathing in through your nose? Is there congestion or mucus blocking the passages? Is it clear, but you experience a burning sensation as the air rushes past? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely you have a sinus infection or other sinus problem.

Also, although it is a bit disgusting, observe the color of the mucus. Blow your nose and determine whether the drip or mucus is clear, white, yellow or green. If it is yellow or green, it is very likely that you have a sinus infection. Normal mucus is clear or white.

Track the timing of your symptoms. If you wake in the morning with pain on one side of your head or face, or with a sore throat, and the pain subsides after a hot shower or as the morning progresses, there is a good chance you are experiencing problems with sinus cavities in the head. The mucus or drainage is gathering on the side of your head or face that you've been sleeping on, and dripping down your throat causing irritation during the night.

If your symptoms are not noticeable in the morning, but get worse in the afternoon, you may be experiencing symptoms from another cause, such as stress or illness, however, it could also be because of allergies.

Write down your activities for the day for several days, tracking where you were, what you were doing and when symptoms began to appear. If your sinuses are causing pain after outdoor activities, or after spending time with a family pet, it is possible you are experiencing sinus problems because of allergies.

Tips & Warnings

  • Nerves extend beyond the cavities. What feels like a toothache or dull headache could actually be a problem with a sinus cavity in the head. Consider whether any pain in the front of the head or in your face could be because of sinus cavity problems.
  • Consult your health care provider if your pain increases dramatically or persists for more than one week or interferes with your daily activities.

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