Avoiding, Preventing, and Treating Headaches

StressHeadaches are one of the most common health complaints. Usually, headaches are not linked to serious health problems and causes can range from a lack of sleep, and poor posture to a medication side effect or strong odor. Most headaches go away with self-care, but they should be monitored as they can be indications for a variety of health conditions including:

Less frequently headaches can be symptoms of serious conditions like acute glaucoma, stroke, tumors, and brain aneurysm.

There are five main types of headaches:

  1. Tension or Muscular Headaches
    The result of tense muscles in the face, neck, or scalp, about 90% of all headaches are tension or muscular headaches. These headaches respond well to self-care without causing ongoing problems. Symptoms include a dull ache in your forehead, above your ears, or at the bottom of your head. Common causes are illness, fever, tiredness, stress, and worry.
  2. Migraine Headaches
    Migraines happen when blood vessels in your head open too wide or close too tight. At least one in eight adults suffer from migraines, women much more often than men. Migraines tend to run in families. There are two types of migraine headaches – those with an aura and those without an aura. An aura occurs when a person sees spots or flashing lights for 10 to 15 minutes or his or her face becomes numb before the headache. Migraines that don’t present with an aura are much slower to start and tend to last longer than those with an aura. Migraines are typified by sensitivity to light and sound, a ringing in the ears, and nausea.
  3. Sinus Headaches
    Your sinuses are located behind your cheeks, around your eyes, and in your nose. When you have a sinus headache, you feel pain in your forehead, cheekbones, and nose around these sinuses. Sinus headache sufferers experience pain in the mornings, when they bend over, and when they touch their face. You may get a sinus headache from anything that interferes with fluid drainage in the nose, causing a build up of pressure. Examples include: a cold or upper respiratory infection, allergies, airplane travel, or swimming in polluted or dirty water.
  4. Cluster Headaches
    Cluster headaches usually start at night and can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours – interrupting sleep. These headaches come once or twice a year, usually in older men, and tend to run in families. Cluster headaches are much less common than migraines. Spring and autumn are the most common times of year for them. Symptoms include watery eyes, sharp intense pain, and pain in the eyes or on one side of the head.
  5. Children’s Headaches
    Children’s headaches that come once in a while can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Make sure that you use the right dose and type for your child’s weight. If your child regularly complains of head pain, take them to the primary care physician for a check-up!

When it comes to preventing headaches, there are a series of things that can help. First of all, be aware of early symptoms and try to stop the headache before it begins by lying down, standing up and moving around, or stretching. Lifestyle adjustments like exercising on a regular basis, maintaining regular sleeping hours, quitting cigarettes and cutting down on salt intake can also help with the management of headaches.

For headaches that do not need immediate care, contact your primary care physician. Most likely, he or she will be able to figure out the type of headache you have, or refer you to an appropriate specialist. Be honest with your doctor about your symptoms and then follow their advice. The three main treatment options you may be prescribed include:

  • Self-Care
    These are all options for relieving headache pain at home. Rest in a quiet room with your door closed. Take a warm bath or shower. Rub the base of your skull with your thumbs, working from the ears toward the center of the back of your head. Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain. Try to avoid your headache triggers.
  • Medication
    If over-the-counter medicines, like aspirin or ibuprofen, don’t cut it, your physician may prescribe you a strong drug. Examples include triptan drugs, antihistamines, beta-blockers, or tricyclic antidepressants. Always take these medications as prescribed.
  • Biofeedback
    Biofeedback is a process of learning how to control internal functions, like the automatic response of your muscles and blood vessels that cause headaches, to relieve pain. Biofeedback training has helped many people who have suffered from headaches.

If you experience severe pain around one eye, feelings of lethargy, sever persistent headache accompanied by a stiff neck, a sudden, incredibly painful headache, or a headache after a serious head injury please seek immediate, emergency care.

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