Identifying headaches is the first step in treating them. Almost everyone suffers from the occasional headache, but the causes and appropriate treatments can be quite diverse. If you are struggling to identify the type of headache that is causing your pain, it can be extremely difficult to get rid of it and prevent it from returning. It isn’t always as simple as popping an over-the-counter painkiller; some headaches can only be tackled through dietary changes, and others are actually exacerbated by standard drugs like Tylenol. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the most common types of headache and how they can be treated. However, keep in mind that any headache accompanied by numbness, confusion or speech problems constitutes a medical emergency.
Identifying Your Headaches
As many as 70% of headaches are thought to be tension headaches, so it’s smart to start by considering whether your pain might be caused by muscle contractions in your head and neck. These headaches typically feel like a tight band digging into the temples, and the discomfort will sometimes be experienced all the way around the skull. Some of the most common causes include eye strain, stress, sleeping in an uncomfortable bed, tiredness and poor posture. In the first instance, you can relieve some of the pain of a tension headache with an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen, but treating recurring tension headaches requires isolate their sources and make lifestyle changes to compensate. For example, you might need to change your seating arrangements when working at the computer, or you may have to consciously attempt to stop hunching your shoulders.
If your headache feels like a dull throb behind your cheekbones, nose and forehead, there is a good chance that it is a sinus headache. Identifying headaches such as these is at times easier, as in many cases, these headaches are preceded by an infection that causes nasal inflammation, like a cold or flu virus. Inflamed sinuses prevent adequate mucus drainage, creating the characteristic ache of a sinus headache. A decongestant nasal spray will often provide the most relief, and if you’re choosing an over-the-counter painkiller than ibuprofen or aspirin is likely to be the most effective.
Approximately 20% of headaches turn out to be some type of migraine. This underscores the importance of identifying headaches. In spite of their frequency, migraines are still not very well understood, though the dominant hypothesis is that the searing pain of migraine headaches is caused by blood vessel constrictions in the head and neck. If an extremely severe headache is accompanied by nausea or vomiting and you cannot tolerate loud noises, it is a good bet that this headache is a migraine. Further, migraines can be accompanied or preceded by blindness in one eye or strange patterns of light. If you think you might have experienced your first migraine, it’s important to visit a doctor for a firm diagnosis in case it is prudent to run tests for a more serious health problem. Once you are diagnosed with migraines, however, you will face an uphill struggle to identify the triggers of your headaches. One common strategy involves starting with certain dietary exclusions, as many people find that foods like chocolate and cheese are linked to their migraines. Other common triggers include hormonal changes during menstruation or pregnancy, exhaustion, alcohol, smoking and exposure to the smell of certain chemicals (such as particular perfumes). Migraine sufferers often experience no relief in response to over-the-counter painkillers and must simply retreat to bed until the attack is over, but some prescription drugs are capable of stopping a migraine if the warning signs are spotted at an early stage.
Medication overuse headaches
Sometimes called rebound headaches, medication overuse headaches can easily begin to occur if you get into a regular daily routine of taking painkillers. So, although you might start by treating a pattern of tension headaches, you may mistakenly continue to believe that you are having tension headaches when you are actually responding to a mild dependence on painkillers. Identifying headaches appropriately helps you target treatment. Unfortunately, medication overuse headaches do feel very much like tension headaches, so you may find it very tough to figure out the real source of your pain. However, if you have been taking painkillers for a fairly long time then it is worth attempting to gradually reduce the dosage in an attempt to see whether your headaches slowly disappear as well. It is important to be patient, as it can take up to a month for medication overuse headaches to subside in response to cessation of painkiller use. If you are still suffering after a month, it is time to talk to your doctor for further advice.
Along with migraines, cluster headaches remain somewhat mysterious to the scientific community. It is widely assumed that these headaches are related to nerve pressure caused by widening of blood vessels, but common causes for this widening is yet to be identified. Unfortunately for the male population, men are much more likely to experience cluster headaches. The horrific pain associated with these headaches is often described as feeling like a drill is being inserted into one eye, but the attacks typically last for an hour or less. Once again, cluster headaches must always be carefully diagnosed by a doctor, as more sinister causes are sometimes associated with a similar type of pain. Some cluster headache sufferers require preventative medication in order to remain free of attacks, but people who have rare attacks may only need abortive drugs that stop a cluster headache once it begins.