All headaches share two things in common: to varying degrees they are painful, and in almost all instances they are tremendously effective in disrupting your day. Occasionally, headaches can leave you unable to get any work done or to enjoy the finer things in life.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind: per healthline.com, there are hundreds of different kinds of headaches; how they are classified depends on factors such as location of the pain, what characteristics the pain itself exhibits, and the course of the headache. Did it come on suddenly like a bolt of lightning, or did it just sort of weasel its way, gradually increasing in intensity, onto your discomfort radar?
Most people experience a headache at least once in their lifetime, and headaches are not a respecter of person, age, race, gender, tax bracket or paper-vs.-plastic preference. The arrival of a headache doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the doctor is in order, but if, per medicalnewstoday.com, it is 1) more painful and disruptive than previous headaches; 2) fails to improve with medication; and/or 3) is accompanied by symptoms such as confusion, fever, sensory changes, and/or stiffness in the neck, then go see the doc. Now.
Causes of Headaches
Headaches can generally be classified in two ways, contingent on what causes them. First, there are what medicalnewstoday.com refers to as “primary headaches” related to overactivity or issues involving pain-sensitive structures in the head, such as blood vessels, muscles and nerves of the head and neck. Changes to the chemical activity inside the brain can also be a factor.
Then there are “secondary headaches,” when a condition somewhere else in the body triggers the pain-sensitive nerves in our heads – the cause is somewhere else. Per medicalnewstoday.com, following are some of the factors that can cause secondary headaches:
- Hangover (from alcohol)
- Brain tumor
- Blood clots
- Brain freeze (from ice cream)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Grinding teeth during sleep
- Panic attacks
Types of Headaches
We’ve just covered the two major cause-based classifications of headaches. Now, let’s look at the different types of headaches, based on the symptoms themselves:
- Tension headaches. Usually triggered by stress, these can feel like a dull, aching sensation throughout your head, but no throbbing.
- Cluster headaches. Symptoms are severe burning and piercing pain around or behind one eye or on one side of the face, per healthline.com.
- Rebound headaches. Usually result from overuse of medications taken to relieve headaches. Neck pain and restlessness are often involved as well, per medicalnewstoday.com.
- Migraines. The worst of the lot, these typically show up as pulsating, throbbing pain on one side of the head, joined by blurred vision, light-headedness, nausea, and auras (sensory disturbances).
- Thunderclap headaches. These are horrendous as well. Sudden and severe, they have been described by sufferers as “the worst headache of my life.” These can accompany life-threatening conditions; therefore, they merit immediate medical attention.
- Allergy/sinus headaches. Pain is focused in the front of your head, specifically in the area of your sinuses.
- Hormone headaches. Linked mostly to women experiencing hormonal fluctuations and usually connected to menstruation, use of birth control pills or pregnancy – whatever can affect estrogen levels.
- Caffeine headaches. This is for people who regularly drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages. The headache comes not from the consumption of caffeine but from the withdrawal when the caffeine user is in need of a “fix.”
- Exertion headaches. These can come on quickly and leave quickly, and they occur after a period of intense physical activity, involving such things as running, weight lifting and, yes, sexual intercourse.
- Hypertension headaches. These can be the result of blood pressure being dangerously high. See a doctor. It usually is felt on both sides of the head, and worsens with any activity.
- Post-traumatic headaches. Such headaches can develop after any type of head injury, such as a concussion, and they can feel like a migraine or tension headache. However, these last six to 12 months and can become a chronic condition.
It might be small consolation for headache sufferers to hear this, but they have lots of company. Per the National Headache Foundation, as reported by Cleveland Clinic, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches, of which about 60 percent are suffering from migraines. Also, about 70 percent of headache sufferers are female.
Obviously, it pays to know what can be done to alleviate headaches, or just make them go away, period. Here are some remedies and remedial actions:
- Prescription medications. See your doctor.
- Over-the-counter remedies. Discuss with a pharmacist, but consultation with your doctor also is recommended.
- Headache education. For one thing, learn what the triggers are and how to avoid them.
- Stress management. This is especially helpful for tension headaches often caused by stress. Relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, massage, mental imagery relaxation, and relaxation to music have been shown to be effective.
- Lying down in a dark, quiet room.
- Hot or cold compresses on the neck and head.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, a kind of “talk therapy that enables patients to identify and deal with stressors,” per healthline.com.
- Biofeedback. Simply put, this involves using equipment with sensors connected to your body and learning via the biofeedback, per clevelandclinic.com, how to release and control the tension that causes headaches.