Headache and Head Pain
Tension headaches are the most common headaches, caused by tight and rigid muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw, most likely due to stress, depression, or anxiety. You may suffer with tension headaches if you work too much, miss meals, or use alcohol and don't get enough sleep.
Migraines, cluster headaches, and sinus headaches are also common, but whatever type of headache you suffer, it's good to know what lifestyle changes you can make, relaxation techniques you can use, and pain relievers you can take to relieve them. There are many causes of headaches, but severe headaches are less common and can signal a serious disorder.
You need to inform your doctor of any sudden severe headaches, if you have a headache after a blow to the head, or if you have a headache and a stiff neck, fever, loss of consciousness, confusion, a sudden worsening in your usual pattern of headaches, or pain in the eye or ear.
Types of headaches: sinus, cluster, tension, and migraine
Evaluating a Headache
In order to evaluate the cause of your headache, you need to give your doctor what is called a “headache history” by describing your headache symptoms and characteristics as completely as you are able to. Let your doctor know the following information:
Age when the headaches started
How frequently they occur
If you have one or multiple types of headaches
Frequency of headaches
Any known triggers such as situations, foods, or medicines
Family history of headaches
Symptoms that occur between headaches
If headaches affect your ability to function
If physical activity causes or aggravates the headache
Anything else associated with the headache
Also describe where the pain is located and what it feels like (stabbing, pounding, throbbing), the severity of the pain on a scale from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe, causing crying), how long the headaches last, if they appear suddenly without warning or with other symptoms, time of day they usually occur, and if you experience changes in vision, blind spots, or bright lights before the headache. Include any other symptoms or warning signs such as weakness, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, appetite changes, changes in attitude or behavior, and if you have ever been treated for headaches and any medicines you are currently taking.
Most tension headaches can be easily treated with OTC medications such as aspirin (adults only), ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. If you feel a headache coming on take a pain reliever early as they are most effective if taken before the pain gets too bad.
Migraines are more common in women, and people who have migraines may need to take prescription medication. Migraine symptoms include pain that usually affects only one side of your head, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and pain that gets worse with normal activity that can last from four to 72 hours.
Cluster headaches only affect 1 percent of adults, and are characterized by sudden and sharp or severe pain affecting only one side of your head, accompanied by teary eyes and nasal congestion. These headaches usually occur in a span of two to 12 weeks with one or more cluster headaches a day. Each cluster headache usually lasts 45 to 90 minutes, leading to restlessness and pacing or rocking.
Chronic use of any medication may cause headaches known as rebound headaches, and anyone who uses medication regularly is at risk. The only treatment for rebound headaches is reducing or stopping the medication that's causing the headaches. Headaches that follow a specific activity such as exercise, sex, or bouts of coughing typically last from five minutes to 48 hours. This type of headache can be a sign of high blood pressure.
First Aid for Headaches
When migraines strike because of increased sensitivity to light and sound, try to rest in a quiet, dark room, and apply hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Sometimes massage and very small amounts of caffeine will also help. Most headaches are minor and can be treated with an OTC pain reliever. For unexplained head pain or head pain that steadily worsens, call your medical-care provider. Call 911 for a headache that occurs suddenly and severely with:
Changes in vision
Loss of balance
Seek medical attention for any headache that:
Is severe following a recent sore throat or respiratory infection
Starts or worsens after a head injury, fall, or bump
Is a new type of pain and you are age 50 or older
Affects just one, reddened eye
Worsens over the course of the day
Persists for several days
Some headaches indicate serious underlying conditions. Seek emergency care if you have a headache that is sudden and severe, accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, rash, double vision, weakness, confusion, seizure, numbness, or difficulty speaking; headache following a fall or bump; or any headache that worsens even with rest and OTC pain medication.
Tension headaches may be relieved by lowering body temperature by taking a cool shower. Blood vessels increase in size during headaches, and as caffeine works to constrict the blood vessels, it may be used occasionally to prevent and treat headaches. Because chronic caffeine use may cause rebound headaches, don't use it all the time. Steps to prevent and control headaches include the following:
Keep a headache diary to help identify the cause of chronic headaches such as foods and environmental triggers.
Avoid triggers that may include beer, wine, pickled foods, MSG, chocolate, smoked meats and cheeses, loud noises, and bright light.
Eat a healthy diet: low fat, high in complex carbohydrates.
Stay hydrated by drinking a cup of fluid for every 20 pounds of body weight per day.
Eat small, frequent meals to prevent low blood sugar.
Exercise regularly with gentle exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or swimming.
Maintain regular sleeping hours and get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.