We all get headaches now and then, but have you ever wondered what causes headaches and what the best headache remedies are? You may be surprised to discover that health professionals recognise various kinds of headaches, and the best remedies depend on the type and cause of the pain.
9 different types of headaches & how to get rid of that pain fast
1. If you have…
Dull pressure or tightness in a band around the head, especially in the forehead
…you probably have a tension headache
This is the most common type of headache – 90% of us have suffered through the mild to moderate pain they cause. The most common cause of tension headaches is tightness in the muscles of the scalp and the back of the neck, which in turn can be caused by poor posture, emotional stress and fatigue. Treatment with easily obtainable over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen is the most common remedy. Ice packs or topical applications can help too. However, because it is often caused by stress, it’s the most likely kind of headache to respond to drug-free remedies or prevention strategies. Rest, napping, deep breathing, gentle yoga, neck stretches and meditation have all been reported as helping to soothe tension headaches.
2. If you have…
Gnawing pain over the eyes and nose, a runny nose and a temperature
…you probably have a sinus headache
Sinus headaches are actually rather rare (migraines are often mistaken for sinus headaches). They are caused by an acute sinus infection which blocks the sinus ducts preventing normal drainage.
Relief can be had from over-the-counter painkillers, but a doctor can advise on ways to prevent further occurrences as they will be able to investigate causes of the infection. A professional may be able to prescribe antibiotics, specialist sinus medications or even surgical drainage of the sinuses, if necessary.
3. If you have…
Throbbing pain, often confined to one side of the head, accompanied by sensitivity to light and nausea
…you probably have a migraine headache
Migraine is a neurological condition suffered by around 15% of the population. Pain can be severe with sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Sufferers may also experience nausea or vomiting. Up to 20% also experience an “aura” where symptoms such as visual disturbances or numbness of limbs precede the onset of pain, giving a short warning that a migraine is about to begin. Apart from the headache itself, sufferers often feel drained for a couple of days following the attack. Migraine headaches can be triggered by emotional stress, hormonal changes including menopause and use of the contraceptive pill, changes in altitude or weather, lights, smoking, and certain foods. A hereditary component is also often at play. Treatment can involve both over-the-counter and prescribed medicines. Ice packs are helpful to constrict swollen blood vessels, and sitting still in a darkened room often helps. Prevention may be assisted by lifestyle changes in some cases and by sufferers learning to avoid triggers, and knowing what works for them when a migraine attack sets in.
4. If you have…
Throbbing pain occurring slightly before, during or after your menstrual cycle
…you probably have a menstrual headache
Variations in oestrogen levels can cause headaches during your period, or even mid-cycle during ovulation. The usual over-the-counter painkillers may provide some relief, along with some general relaxation such as a soak in a scented bath. In the worst cases, a doctor may be able to refer you to a therapist to help you learn ways of dealing with recurring pain.
5. If you have…
Throbbing, recurring headaches
…you may have a caffeine withdrawal headache
These are caused by the rebound dilation of blood vessels occurring after consumption of large quantities of caffeine. While painkillers will help, prevention is easier in the long run. Perhaps it’s time to take the decaffeinated option next time you grab a coffee.
6. If you have…
Been drinking alcohol, and have throbbing, non-localised pain, accompanied by nausea
…you probably have a hangover headache
Excessive consumption of alcohol causes dilation and irritation of the brain’s blood vessels, along with the surrounding tissue. Treatment involves the intake of plenty of fluids (not alcohol!) including broth. Fructose in the form of honey or tomato juice may also help. The best cure is prevention (i.e. drinking in moderation next time!)
7. If you have…
Frontal, bilateral pain
…you probably have an eyestrain headache
While these are rare, they are headaches to watch out for because the cause may not be obvious. Uncorrected short or long sightedness, especially in younger people, is the obvious cause of headaches getting worse over time. This shows the importance of regular eye tests – they can detect eyestrain and other optical symptoms which may be solved by a visit to an optician.
8. If you have…
A generalised headache with nasal congestion and watery eyes
…you probably have an allergy headache
Seasonal allergens such as common pollens and moulds can trigger uncomfortable headaches accompanied by sneezing and irritated eyes. These are not usually connected with allergies to food.
Typical treatments include antihistamine medications which are available over the counter, or a doctor may prescribe cortisone nasal sprays or desensitisation injections.
9. If you have…
Recurring headaches at the same time of day, often just after falling asleep, with searing pain behind one eye
…you may have a cluster headache
These are extremely rare, with only 0.1% of the population, mainly men, being affected. Because they tend to occur at around the same time every day over a period of weeks or even months, experts suspect the hypothalamus is involved, as this is the part of the brain which controls the body clock. They last an hour or two, but appear in clusters lasting several weeks, then may disappear for up to a year. The pain can be excruciating, accompanied by nasal congestion, teary eyes and a flushed face. They are most common among users of alcohol and smokers. Prescription medicines can provide some pain relief. Melatonin may also help since it can regulate the body clock.
Whatever kind of headache you think you may have, don’t suffer in silence. A chat with the pharmacist at your local chemist may help, and he or she will refer you to your GP if it seems to be something more serious.
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