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What Conditions Cause Sinus Pressure and Dizziness?

By Traci Behringer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sinus pressure and dizziness are often experienced by people with chronic conditions that cause sinusitis, an inflammation of the facial sinuses. The health issues that most often cause these symptoms are infections and allergies. Typically, the symptoms are mild, but for some people, they can become very debilitating. In most cases, treating the cause of the sinus pressure will alleviate the dizziness and as well as the other symptoms caused by the congestion.

Sinus Inflammation

The cavities located behind the eyes, nose, and cheeks are called the sinuses. They are coated with a thin layer of mucus, which helps them stay moist and supple. If the sinuses become irritated, such as by allergies or an infection, they swell and produce excess mucus, causing congestion. Symptoms of congestion can include headache, facial pain and pressure, and nasal discharge. The Eustachian tubes connect the ears to the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nasal cavity, so inflammation of the sinuses can affect this passageway. When this happens, dizziness or vertigo can often result, as structures within the inner ears help the body maintain balance.

Allergies

Allergies to airborne substances can lead to inflammation of the nasal membranes, also called allergic rhinitis. Typical symptoms include sneezing, itchy red nose, swelling of the nose, nasal discharge, and tearing. Within a few hours of contact with the allergen, sinus inflammation, congestion, pressure, and dizziness can develop. These late-phase symptoms can last several hours or even days. Treatment is typically based on medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid preparations, which help relieve the swelling.

Infections

Sinus pressure and inflammation — which can trigger dizziness — is often caused by an infection. Most are caused by viruses, such as those which cause the common cold, and last between seven and ten days. These infections are usually discrete events that do not recur. Since these illnesses are not caused by bacteria, antibiotics are unnecessary; the most effective medications are typically decongestants that help thin and dry up mucus secretions. Other ways to manage the congestion include good hydration to help thin mucus, and steam inhalation to aid in clearing nasal blockages.

Chronic or recurring sinusitis tends to be bacterial in nature. If a single infection lasts longer than seven to ten days, broad-spectrum antibiotics are typically prescribed. A single course is usually enough to clear up the infection. In the case of recurring infections, or infections that don’t respond to antibiotics, a person might be referred for medical tests, like a CT scan, nasal swab, or tissue sample, to determine whether there are any complications.

Nasal Polyps

People with chronic sinusitis or allergic rhinitis are at risk of developing nasal polyps, which are small benign growths that develop on the membranes of the nasal passages. While they often appear in response to chronic allergy or infection, they can also occur spontaneously. Nasal polyps can lead to partial or full loss of taste or smell, increased congestion, and further facial pressure and pain. In addition, they can increase the likelihood of nasal and sinus infections recurring. Polyps can be treated with medications such as steroids, but surgery is sometimes required to remove them.

Deviated Septum

The nasal septum is the wall between the nostrils; when it is deviated, it is closer to the left or right nostril, instead of being in the center of the nose. This makes one of the nasal passages smaller than the other, giving the smaller one reduced airflow. The smaller nostril has a high risk of frequent blockage and nosebleeds; sinusitis can develop over time, leading to the typical symptoms of pressure, pain, and possible dizziness. Surgery is needed to correct the problem, and after the nose has healed, all of the symptoms are usually resolved.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Someone who experiences dizziness along with sinus pressure should see his or her healthcare provider promptly. Since the brain and eyes are located so close by, an untreated sinus infection can lead to serious complications. Abscesses can develop in the nasal and sinus cavities, and meningitis is a risk if the infection spreads. Warning signs of brain involvement include changes in personality or consciousness, visual disturbances, seizures, and coma.

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Discussion Comments
By anon315158 — On Jan 22, 2013

I'm in the middle of this right now. I'm having sinus pressure and some ear pain (mild), but the dizziness is what is bothering me the most. I'm no stranger to ear infections as I had them chronically when I was a child and although I don't remember it, my mom insists I was dizzy with them then too.

I'm being treated now with nasal sprays and antibiotics but it's been seven days and I'm really not seeing any improvement. Any idea how long this dizziness will last? I'm on a computer all day at work, so you can imagine how hard it is for me to concentrate and tax season is here I need to be able to focus. Not to mention the fact that it has limited me at the gym and making me very anxious about going places.

By StarJo — On Feb 17, 2012

@Perdido – Unfortunately, the most effective treatment is surgery. My aunt lived for many years with a deviated septum, and she tried every decongestant and antihistamine available. Nothing relieved her sinus pressure.

The pressure was so high inside her sinuses that she often felt lightheaded. Dizziness was dangerous for her, because she worked with heavy machinery.

She finally decided to have surgery to correct the problem. The surgeon repositioned her septum. She spent several weeks in recovery, breathing through her mouth with a bandage over her nose.

There was a lot of bruising, but it went away over time. She said that having this surgery was the best thing she ever did. It is such a relief for her to be able to breathe through her nose, and the pressure and dizziness are gone.

By Perdido — On Feb 16, 2012

Does anyone here suffer from a deviated septum? My nose has always been slightly crooked since birth, and I think that this may be why I have so many sinus problems.

It is hard for me to breathe through my nose. I stay congested most of the time, and over-the-counter decongestants just don't work for me. There is constant pressure in my nose, I'm often dizzy, and I also have nosebleeds from time to time for no obvious reason.

I know I should probably see a doctor about it. Is there a treatment other than surgery that might work? I don't really have enough money saved up for something like this.

By cloudel — On Feb 16, 2012

@Oceana – Since you tried taking antihistamines, I'm guessing that you suffer from allergies. So do I, and I am very familiar with the dizziness and sinus pressure that they can cause over time.

My problems started when I began letting my dogs sleep in the house at night. I seemed to have constant sinus pressure and mucus then, followed by dizzy spells.

My neighborhood is a dangerous place to leave animals outside at night, so putting them out was not something I considered. Instead, I began vacuuming twice a week and sweeping several times in between. I also dust more often and vacuum the pet beds once a week.

This rigorous cleaning schedule has helped relieve my allergies and reduce my sinus pain. I don't know if you know what is causing your sinus issues, but you might get some sinus pressure relief by keeping dust out of your home as much as possible.

By Oceana — On Feb 15, 2012

I suffer from chronic sinus infections. Once my ear pressure increases, dizziness begins, and then I know it is time to see a doctor.

For months at a time, I would just tolerate the swollen sinuses, putting off going to a doctor as long as possible. I would take an antihistamine daily, in hopes that it would rid my nose of the excess mucus. However, the infection almost always traveled to my ears, where it caused itching and a pressure I couldn't relieve just by opening my mouth wide.

I hate taking antibiotics so often, because I fear that the bacteria will eventually become resistant to them. However, there doesn't seem to be any other type of effective treatment for sinus infections.

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