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Allergic rhinitis and migraines are two of the most common health issues experienced by adults worldwide. Surprisingly, these two diagnoses can be confused with one another, leading to improper treatment and delayed symptom relief. The confusion occurs because many of the symptoms experienced by these two diseases overlap, making distinguishing between the two difficult.

Allergic Rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction that causes upper respiratory symptoms such as (but not limited to):

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent headaches

These symptoms are caused by the body’s overreaction to an allergen. Allergens vary from person to person. Common allergens include animal dander, dust, grass pollen, and mold.


Little is known about the cause of migraines. Current evidence suggests that migraines could be related to changes in the brainstem or chemical imbalances in the brain.

Symptoms of migraines are defined across different stages that an individual might experience. During an attack (what most people would call a migraine) symptoms include:

  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Throbbing or pulsating pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

Allergic Rhinitis can cause a phenomenon called sinus headaches. Sinus headaches are caused by the build-up of pressure in the sinus cavities and can lead to symptoms similar to that of a migraine. Research suggests that nearly 90% of symptoms reported by patients experiencing sinus headaches match that of diagnostic criteria for migraines. Thus, physicians should conduct a thorough medical evaluation and history and be aware of the possibility of both migraines and sinus headaches caused by allergic rhinitis.

Approximately 2-5% of the general population suffer from either chronic migraines or chronic daily headaches. Allergic rhinitis affects a significant amount of adults and is common among children as well, affecting an estimated 60 million people in the United States alone. Both migraines and allergic rhinitis decrease the quality of life and have a high socioeconomic burden. Therefore, ENT doctors should consider migraines as a potential source of symptoms in their sinus headache patients while neurologist should consider a nasal or sinus source as a potential cause for patients reporting migraines.

If you live in the South Florida area and experience symptoms of headaches, set up an appointment with Dr. Carreño. As an ENT specialist, Dr. Carreño is experienced in treating both adults and children with allergic rhinitis and sinus headache. Contact his office today to set up a visit.