Causes Of Stuffy Nose & Headache

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A stuffy nose and headache can be the result of benign conditions such as colds and allergies. However, sometimes, they are due to a condition that may require medical attention.

In this article, we discuss some causes of a headache and stuffy nose, as well as the treatment options available. We also look at when a person should seek medical help.

1. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses that can cause a buildup of mucus and swelling. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), an acute sinus infection often starts as a cold.  The initial cold may cause the sinuses to swell, which traps bacteria and mucus in the passages.  According to the AAAAI, chronic sinusitis occurs when a person experiences three or more sinus infections in a given year.

It typically causes sinus swelling and mucus buildup.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • pressure around eyes, forehead or nose
  • head congestion
  • stuffy nose
  • cough
  • discolored and thick mucus
  • foul-tasting post-nasal drip
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear
  • headache, especially in the front of the head
  • toothache
  • fatigue
  • fever, although this is less common


Viruses cause most sinus infections, and people can treat most sinus problems with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

However, if the sinus problems persist or worsen after 7–10 days, sinusitis is likely due to bacteria. In these cases, a doctor might prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the bacteria that causes the infection to occur.

2.  Having a Cold

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a stuffy nose is a common cold symptom. Some people may also experience a headache from a cold, although this is a rare symptom.

Other symptoms of a cold can include:

  • cough or slight chest pain
  • some aches
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • fever, although this is rare
  • weakness or fatigue


To treat a cold, a person typically needs rest and to consume fluids. A person can also take OTC medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.  Home remedies, such as humidifiers or steamy showers, may also help combat symptoms.  If symptoms do not go away within 10–14 days, a person should talk to their doctor as they may have a sinus infection.

3. The Flu

Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory illness that occurs due to influenza viruses.  Those experiencing the flu may also experience stuffy noses and headaches.  According to the CDC, other symptoms include:

  • cough
  • sore throat
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • fever, although this does not always occur

Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more likely to occur in children than in adults.  Some people with flu may develop serious complications. A person should seek emergency medical help if they experience any of the following:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • persistent confusion or dizziness
  • seizures
  • severe muscle pain
  • severe weakness


It is a good idea to receive treatment as early as possible. A doctor may also prescribe antiviral drugs to help prevent complications from occurring.

4.  Allergies

Allergies can cause a stuffy nose and a headache. When allergies cause a headache, a person may experience other symptoms, such as:

  • watery, itchy eyes
  • runny nose
  • pain in the face around the cheeks and nose


A person should avoid allergy triggers where possible.  Treatments consist of OTC medications, such as antihistamines and nasal decongestants.  If OTC medications are not effective, a person should talk to their doctor about prescription medications or allergy shots.

5. Ear infections

Ear infections can cause a headache and a stuffy nose. Both viruses and bacteria can cause an ear infection.  Fluid from the ear can leak into the nasal passages and cause an infection in the nose.  Some common symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • hearing loss
  • fluid drainage
  • fever
  • difficulty sleeping
  • issues with balance


Some home remedies can provide relief from an ear infection. Some steps a person can take include:

  • OTC decongestants
  • using a warm compress
  • rest
  • extra fluids
  • taking OTC pain medications
  • using OTC ear drops

If home treatments do not work, a person should talk to their doctor.  A doctor may need to prescribe an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection.  A person should seek medical help if these symptoms occur:

  • a high fever of 102°F or higher
  • worsening symptoms
  • hearing loss
  • fluid, or discharge coming from the ear

6. Migraines

Migraines are severe, throbbing headaches that typically affect one side of the head or the other. Migraines can cause a person to experience a stuffy nose.  They can be chronic, meaning that they can reoccur.

Other symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • light sensitivity
  • vision changes
  • vomiting


There are several different treatment options for migraines, though they might not work for everyone.  Treatment typically focuses on either preventing the attack or treating the symptoms.  A person should talk to their doctor about the best treatment options for them.


At Pacific Eye & Ear Specialists, we employ thorough evaluation and treatment regimes. Call our office today for an appointment with our top Los Angeles ENT physicians and Audiologists. If you have any questions, feel free to call us at (310) 477-5558.