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A majority of people experience headaches from time to time. Physical injury, emotional stress, medications, and even weather can cause headaches. They are usually not a cause of concern and go away on their own or when you take over-the-counter pain medications. Headaches only become a problem if they are severe and occur frequently. Such headaches can end up affecting your quality of life. They could also be a sign of something else going on with your health. A headache can affect any part of your head with localized pain in one area or several areas. Headaches are categorized based on the underlying course. There are more than 150 types of headaches but they all fall into two broad categories.
- Primary headaches
- Secondary headaches
Primary headaches refer to any kind of head pain that is not caused by a medical condition. They include the following;
- Cluster headaches
- Tension headaches
- New daily persistent headaches or NDPH
Secondary headaches occur due to an underlying medical condition. Secondary headaches don’t go away and the only way to treat them is to treat the underlying problem. Secondary headaches can occur due to the following;
- Head injury and trauma
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Overuse of certain pain medications
- Sinus congestion
- Blood vessel disorders in the brain
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Types of Headaches
There are so many types of headaches. Some go away on their own while others need extra medical intervention. The most common include;
These are the most common and affect teenagers and adults most. They cause mild or moderate pain. Tension headaches come and go and usually don’t cause any other symptoms.
Migraines are painful headaches that cause pounding or throbbing pain. Migraines usually last for a few hours but some can last for as many as ten days. Migraines occur once or four times a month. Other symptoms may include light, smell, or noise sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting. A person can also experience abdominal pain and appetite loss. Migraines can affect children as well. A child who has a migraine will appear pale, may feel dizzy, and might have a fever and blurry vision.
Cluster headaches are more severe and can be very uncomfortable. People describe a piercing or burning pain around or behind one of the eyes. The pain can be so severe that they will pace around when an attack happens in some people. On the affected side, the eyelid will appear droopy. The eye may also appear red with constricted pupils. Some people also experience a runny or stuffy nose and teary eyes. Cluster headaches happen in groups hence the term cluster.
Attacks can happen as many as three times a day per cluster period. Each cluster period can last for two weeks to as long as three months. Cluster headaches last for about 15 minutes and in severe cases 3 hours. Such headaches make normal activities like sleeping difficult. People who experience cluster headaches go through periods of remissions and flare-ups. Remission can last for months or a few years, only for the headaches to come back again. These types of headaches are more common in men than in women.
Chronic daily headaches
The term chronic means that they keep recurring. A doctor will diagnose you with chronic daily headaches if you’ve had a headache for 15 days or more for the past 3 months or more. Some chronic headaches last for a few minutes while others can last for more than four hours. A chronic headache most of the time will be one of the types of primary headaches.
Sinus headaches occur when your sinuses get inflamed. They cause constant and deep pain around the forehead, cheekbones, or bridge of the nose. Other symptoms can include a runny nose, fever, swollen face, or a feeling of fullness in the ears. An actual sinus headache occurs due to a sinus infection. If you have such a headache, the gunk from the nose will be yellow or green.
Posttraumatic stress headaches
Post Traumatic headaches occur due to an existing head injury or past trauma. They appear after two to three days of head trauma. Symptoms include a dull ache that worsens with time, lightheadedness, vertigo, and irritability. You may also experience fatigue, memory, and concentration problems. Posttraumatic stress headaches may come and go for months. If headaches don’t get better a few weeks after a head injury, go see a doctor.
Medication overuse headaches
These kinds of headaches occur due to an overuse of opiate-based medicines. They include medications like morphine and codeine. A person can misuse these drugs by taking them too often to treat chronic headaches. Symptoms will include neck pain, nasal congestion, restlessness, and poor sleep quality.
Symptoms of Headaches
Symptoms differ from one type of headache to another. General symptoms may include;
- A dull, throbbing, or burning pain on the forehead, around eyes, or back of the neck
- Nausea and sometimes vomiting
- Pain and strain in the eyes especially when you look into bright lights
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Concentration and memory problems
- Teary eyes and a runny nose
- Scalp tenderness
- A tight sensation in the head
Diagnosis of Headaches
Most headaches come and go without causing any long-term damage. Persistent headaches should, however, be a cause for concern. This is especially if you have suffered a head injury. With the right diagnosis, a doctor will start you off with the right treatment. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, how long ago they started, and the severity of the headaches. They will also want to know how often the headaches occur. Most headaches don’t need special testing. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the doctor may order imaging tests.
An MRI or CT scan will give a clear picture of what is going on in your brain. Sometimes headaches occur due to underlying medical conditions. These include brain tumors, a bleed in the brain, or vessel damage. Skull X-rays usually don’t do much to diagnose brain problems. An electroencephalogram test (EEG) is also not necessary if you pass out.
How to Treat Headaches
Different treatment options are available depending on what is causing your headaches. If your headaches are being caused by a tumor or a bleed in the brain, for instance, removing the tumor or stopping the bleed should resolve them. Most of the time, however, you don’t need any medication. For those who do, treatment options can include medications or counseling. Treatments also include electronic medical devices, biofeedback, and in severe cases surgery.
How to Manage Headaches
Most headaches should improve if you make certain lifestyle changes.
- Make sure you get enough sleep every night
- Find ways of managing stress, anxiety, and depression as these can worsen headaches
- Don’t overuse pain medications
- Eat well-balanced meals rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
- Always ensure that you remain hydrated
- Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy body weight
- Are headaches genetically inheritable? Headaches, especially, migraines tend to run in families. If you experience migraines now and then, there is a high chance that one of your parents does so too.
2. When should I see a doctor? Headaches come and go. However, see a specialist if you;
- Have headaches at least three or more times a week
- Have headaches that won’t go away or worsen with time
- You need to take pain relievers almost daily to relieve the head pain
- Need more than three doses of OTC medications every week to relieve head pain symptoms
- Your headaches get triggered by coughing, bending, or engaging in strenuous physical activities
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!