Update on the diagnostic considerations for neurogenic nasal and sinus symptoms: A current review suggests adding a possible diagnosis of migraine

Frederick A. Godley, Roy R. Casiano, Mark Mehle, Brian McGeeney, Christopher Gottschalk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Treatment of rhinosinusitis (RS) is one of the leading reasons for prescriptions of antibiotics, although they often fail to provide symptomatic relief. Appropriately diagnosing and treating patients presenting with RS for whom antibiotic therapy has failed or who have normal CT findings is a controversial topic. One explanation is that what these patients are experiencing is misinformation from the trigeminal nerve and autonomic nervous system. Midfacial pain and pressure with rhinorrhea and nasal congestion do not represent an infectious, or even inflammatory, condition within the sinus or nasal cavities, but a mirage that is best treated as a migraine variant. Observations Although there is not enough research to definitively prove this alternate etiology, we are reaching a tipping point where the clinical implications, real-world experience, and evolving literature support this possible alternate etiology. Four key factors support a midfacial migraine that mimics RS: 1) Pathophysiology: current pathophysiology literature offers a model of how migraine attacks could replicate clinical presentations of RS; 2) Clinical presentation: patients with infectious RS and midfacial migraine have similar symptomatic presentation, similar demographics, but poorly correlated radiological information; 3) Diagnosis: clinical studies support the proposition that there are alternative diagnostic tools for distinguishing patients with midfacial migraine; and 4) Prognosis: Select RS patients show significant improvement with migraine treatment. Conclusions: We encourage medical professionals to consider migraine disease as a form of sensory misinformation and as a possible etiology of RS complaints. Clinicians can ask validated questions to determine if possible migraine could be an underlying cause, and there are standard preventative treatments for migraine that could alleviate patient symptoms. Dysfunctional vasomotor activity may be the root of the disturbances, particularly when antibiotic therapy fails and CT findings are discordant with symptoms. Until there is a diagnostic test for migraine, clinicians need to question a patient's self-diagnosis of rhinosinusitis. More research is needed to definitively answer this important question.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-311
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Antibiotics
  • Failed treatment
  • Migraine
  • Paranasal sinuses
  • Rhinology
  • Rhinosinusitis
  • Sinus CT scan
  • sinusitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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