What is a vacuum headache?

Fact Checked

A vacuum headache is a form of headache that arises if there is any alteration in the pressure that overlaps with nasal congestion. This results to the closure of the frontal sinuses which causes a vacuum-like effect in the sinus cavities that trigger intense pain or a headache.

Indications of a vacuum headache

A vacuum headache can be accompanied by the following:

  • Sinus pain
    What is a vacuum headache?
    Sensation of pressure around the eyes.
  • Sensation of pressure around the eyes
  • Pressure or weight on the forehead
  • Throbbing sensation in the sinus cavities and temples

What are the causes?

The usual cause is a change in the altitude along with nasal congestion or blockage which is likely to occur during air travel.

Dehydration brought about by the dry air in the plane and air sickness which leads to nasal stuffiness and a vacuum headache. The blockage causes an increase in the oxygen in the sinuses which results to changes in the pressure.

Once the plane soars or lands, the pressure deviates further to produce a vacuum within the sinus cavities and triggers pain and sensation of pressure on the face, especially around the eyes. This is usually relieved by stabilization of the pressure or unclogging of the nose. In some instances, the pain might last even after the pressure is stabilized.


When treating a vacuum headache, it is managed using decongestants. In severe cases, a cortisone injection is usually given to allow the opening of the sinus cavities and a blocked nose.

A vacuum headache subsides after the congestion is alleviated and the nose and sinuses are opened to release the pressure.


It is vital to observe the proper precautions while travelling by air or scuba diving to keep the nose clear.

Certain medications must be taken before engaging in such activities. An alternative is to keep the body properly hydrated by drinking adequate fluids to prevent dehydration.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional

  • All firstaidreddeer.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.