Just about anything “stress, hormones, caffeine (or the lack of it), allergies, a pulled muscle” can cause a headache.
Figuring out the type of headache and, in some cases the pain trigger, can go a long way toward short-circuiting your misery, according to the National Headache Foundation.
Headache specialists divide headaches into two main types: primary, benign headaches like migraine or cluster headaches, and secondary headaches in which an underlying culprit an infected tooth, pinched nerve, or, rarely, a tumor ““ is causing the pain.
Here are the facts on the four main types of primary benign headaches:
More than 37 million Americans suffer migraines, but fewer than half ever get an accurate diagnosis, according to the National Headache Foundation. These headaches are often misdiagnosed as tension or sinus headaches, either by providers or the sufferers themselves.
Migraines have distinctive symptoms and keeping track of when they occur can help you get relief. Here’s what you need to look for:
- Dull, thudding pain at the beginning of the headache
- Thudding pain amps up to a throbbing or pulsating pain
- Pain is located at the back of the head, the temples or on one side of the head
- Auras, or seeing lines, dots or having wavy vision before the headache begins, are common for some people; others may even hear voices or smell strange odors
- Nausea and extreme sensitivity to light, sound or strong odors
- Outside sources ““ such as certain foods, stress, fatigue, hormones or weather changes ““ trigger a chemical reaction that causes blood vessels in the brain to become inflamed
If these symptoms sound familiar, keep a written log of when your headaches occur, including the time of day, weather conditions, what you had to eat or drink and what you were doing that day.
Many effective medications, including some over-the-counter remedies, are available, but if you can identify what’s triggering your migraine, you can go a long way toward stopping it before it even starts.
These headaches got their name because the attacks come in groups. Cluster headaches are described as the most intensely painful, and start with little or no warning. Here’s what to look for:
- Short duration, from 30 or 45 minutes to a few hours
- One to four headaches a day or more over a period of weeks or months
- Intense, piercing pain on one side of the head, behind an eye or sinus cavity
- Runny nose, a tearing or bloodshot eye on the same side as the pain
- Heavy sweating
- Headaches occur at the same time of day during cluster periods
Many people suffer cluster headaches during the spring or fall months, so it’s easy to assume they’re sinus headaches. About a fifth of people who get cluster headaches suffer year-round from the attacks. Prescription painkillers and oxygen are usually prescribed to help treat the pain.
Suffers say these usually feel like a band or vice being tightened around your head, along with soreness or tightness in the muscles in the head or neck. They occur sporadically, and treatment includes over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, relaxation techniques, and biofeedback.
The poor sinus headache gets the blame for causing a lot of suffering. True sinus headaches usually involve localized pain and pressure around a blocked or inflamed sinus. In most cases, clearing the sinus, usually with a decongestant or antihistamine, and a painkiller will make the headache go away. Sinus infections could also cause sinus headaches, and may require antibiotics.
If any of these headache types sound familiar, let your doctor know during your next visit. He or she may be able to help you ease the pain.