Can a Persistent Headache be Caused by Sinus Problems?

I came across an interesting article that appeared over a year ago in the Washington Post. The article is titled “A man’s persistent headache proves hard to diagnose and harder to treat,” by Sandra G. Boodman, and published on March 19, 2012. Article Link:

The article discusses a 41 year old man who developed a constant headache in November of 2008. Over the course of many months the man consulted many neurologists, ear nose and throat doctors, ophthalmologist, and others but none could explain what was causing him the headache.

The man is quoted as saying

“I’d been chasing this for more than six months. No one could tell me what it was. I just remember thinking, ‘How am I going to be able to function if it never goes away?”

Over the course of the treatment the man took antibiotics, corticosteroids, pain relievers, and had sinus surgery. It appears imaging studies were ordered and a CT scan showed a sinus infection which presumably led to the antibiotics and corticosteroids and later sinus surgery.

The article describes how the man missed a significant amount of work and lost weight. He later saw another neurologist who gave him a diagnosis of new daily persistent headache.

The man’s neurologist told him that the headache would probably never be cured but things could be done to help alleviate the pain. Through trial and error, the man now takes 2 antidepressants and occasionally epilepsy drug to help with the pain.

The article describes the doctors think the sinus infection may have contributed to the headache, but this will never be known for sure. The article notes that none of the doctors think the man’s problem is psychological.

The man is also quoted as saying

“[the headache] is like a light on a dimmer switch. It never quite goes off”

Now reading this article I saw it nearly describing the same problems I have dealt with since having all 4 of my healthy wisdom teeth extracted. However, in my case their is a clear trigger and it is not known if the headaches are similar or not. One noticeable difference is that the man in this article has his nose and upper teeth causing pain. In my case I never had this problem. However, based on my treatment and knowledge, I wonder if he has some lidocaine injected near the nose (or some other anesthesia sprayed in the nose) if this would temporarily alleviate the headache as it could be due to a specific nerve in that area causing the headache.

As described on my website on the about me and my treatment pages, I have experienced a chronic persistent headache that has never gone away since late June of 2006 and 2 days after having 4 healthy wisdom teeth extracted. My imaging studies were also negative except for a right maxillary sinus infection, found by a Brain MRI scan originally, of which, is shown on the about me page. Similarly to the man in the article, I took antibiotics, corticosteroids, and later had sinus surgery to clear the sinus infection hoping this would alleviate the headache. Unfortunately, like the man in the article, this did not occur. I have also taken antidepressants and an epilepsy drug to help with the pain. Like in the man’s case, in my case it not known if the sinus infection contributed to the headache or not. So it is possible the man in the article and myself have the same headache condition but it is also very possible they are different, since there are so many different potential causes of a headache.

Now due to this information, I have previously written an article on sinusitis after wisdom teeth removal. In this article, I describe how a physician’s experience with sinusitis suggests that many patients have sinusitis on an imaging study even when sinusitis may not be present. Due to this, for those considering having wisdom teeth extracted, I advocate for an imaging study, preferably brain MRI, to be performed BEFORE any surgery, so that a baseline scan is obtained. This is because in the event that any complications and/or problems arise after the surgery then a comparable imaging study can be used to more accurately determine what (if any) change(s) occurred. This only applies if one is having one or both of the upper two wisdom teeth extracted as the maxillary sinus is in this area.

Now the other take home point from drawing the parallel’s between the man’s persistent headache and my own persistent headache, is that a persistent headache can occur for many many years without ever showing up on any imaging studies and lab tests. This is extremely problematic if one is attempting to win a malpractice lawsuit. Hence, I have argued for the videotaping of any surgery and the events that occur afterwards for several days. This only goes so far though in the case of pain and problems occurring after surgery without any imaging studies and lab tests to confirm.

1 thought on “Can a Persistent Headache be Caused by Sinus Problems?”

  1. Hi,

    I’m the guy from the article. Every now and then, I search for information about NDPH just to see if there’s anything new out there for treatments, clinical trials, or even news coverage.

    If nothing else, I’m glad my efforts to get the article written provided some bit of relevant information to the wider world. Not only is this a difficult condition to manage, the lack of information about it is almost maddening.

    I’m doing ok with my NDPH; I even got engaged. So, life goes on, just not as before.

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