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Study Finds Connection Between Migraines and Sinuses

It turns out there could be a connection between sinuses and migraine headaches--especially in women.

Whether you sneeze from chronic sinus problems throughout the year, or seasonal allergies, your head may pay the price.

Dr. Vincent Martin, a headache and facial pain specialist, and Dr. Johnathan Bernstein, an allergy and immunology specialist, where co-authors in this new study. They found migraine headaches far more prevalent in those with rhinitis, which is sinus inflammation.

"In fact, in our study, we found that migraine headaches were about 30 percent more likely in migraine patients that had allergies and hay fever," Martin said.

Martin said it's possible sinus-induced sleep problems, such as sleep apnea, are behind these horrible headaches.

"Another possibility is the nerves that produce migraines go to the nose and the sinuses, and if you have inflammation in the nose, that could activate those nerves and produce headache," Martin said.

So the question then remains: do you treat the headaches, or do you treat the sinus problems? And the answer appears to be that you may need to treat a little bit of both.

Bernstein said if you currently take medication for migraines without success, you might also need to ask your doctor about treatment for sinus troubles, or even allergy shots.

"I just had a patient yesterday who came in and she was having 15 to 16 migraines a month," Bernstein said. "She is now down to two or three a month, and she is ecstatic because we managed her rhinitis and we managed her headaches."

Getting the right treatment may be even more critical if you are female.

"Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men, and in our study, women were more likely to have more frequent headaches and also more disabling headaches," Martin said.

"So it was the combined approach between the headache specialist and the allergist that made the big difference for this patient," Bernstein said.

Researchers say it's not clear yet which comes first: the headaches, or the sinus problems. But it's clear both need to be treated for migraines to diminish.
Liz Bonis, reporting.