Sinus Headache from Peppermint Tea - Causes and Treatment

Question: I had several procedures done with sinus surgery (turbinoplasty, FESS) 4 weeks ago. I followed a doctor’s instructions as far as diet, and activity during the recovery period. It all went very well, minimal pain, until this week when I started drinking peppermint tea daily. I didn’t make any connection between the two, but my sinuses start hurting right after the tea. As a matter of fact, one day I had two cups of the tea and the pain was really bad. Can you get a sinus headache from peppermint tea? I thought peppermint was good to treat sinus problems. Thank you.

Answer: This really is rather interesting.   We  have found and reported in the medical literature  that acid reflux (either known or “silent”) is a frequent cause of chronic sinusitis.  In our study, eight of eleven patients with sinusitis who failed regular medical care, had significant reflux of stomach acid as high as the sinuses.   Patients were studied over a 24 hour period with pH (acid monitors) in the back of the nose.  In these patients, reflux was the likely cause of their recurrent infections.  Most had no or few other symptoms of reflux and  found that their sinus problems improved or resolved when their reflux was treated (diet -with or without medications).  Surgery can often be avoided with such treatment.

One of the more common agents worsening reflux is peppermint.  So yes, you can get a sinus headache from peppermint tea. Please see the page below for some more information

While there may be some other, unexplained etiology, acid reflux is by far the most likely cause of these symptoms- and may have been part of the cause of your sinus problems that necessitated surgery.

I would ask your surgeon to evaluate whether you do in fact have reflux which may be worsening your symptoms.  If so, treatment will likely lead to a  better long-term outcome from your surgery.

Clinical evaluation may be enough, but at times we  do 24 hour pH testing in the nasopharynx.  This accurately measures whether acid is in fact coming up to your sinuses, when it happens and what exacerbates the problem.

We would be happy to evaluate you here at the sinus center if you are in the NY area.

I hope this clears things up.

Robert Pincus MD

Co-Director NY Sinus Center

Associate Professor Otolaryngology