Although no headaches are pleasant, they are not all created equal. There are several kinds of headaches, each with its own symptoms and treatment options, and correctly diagnosing yours can make the difference between living in pain and resuming normal life. Knowing more about the five most common types of headaches may help.
Tensions headaches are the most common type of headache, often triggered by stress. You may feel a dull, aching pain in your head, tightness or pressure across your forehead or along the side and back of your head, and tenderness in your scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles. A variety of medications can be used to relieve the pain, but if you suffer from chronic tension headaches, your doctor may also prescribe a preventive medication, such as an antidepressant or muscle relaxant. Lifestyle remedies include rest and applying heat or ice.
Migraines may feel similar to tension headaches, but there are some differences. For instance, migraine headaches may be associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, and visual disturbances and will get worse with physical activity. Migraines often have four distinct phases: prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. The pain will be on one or both sides of your head and have a throbbing quality. Pain-relieving and preventive medications may be prescribed, and some lifestyle changes suggested. If traditional options fail, consider alternative migraine treatments such as acupuncture.
When your sinuses become inflamed, the swelling and blockage from the extra mucus combine to cause pressure and pain. The pain from a sinus headache is usually deep and constant, concentrated around the cheekbones, forehead, and bridge of the nose. It will likely be accompanied by other sinus-related symptoms, such as a runny nose, earaches, facial swelling, and fever. Sinus headaches are usually treated by fighting the infection with antibiotics and the other symptoms with antihistamines, decongestants, and pain relievers. Drinking more fluids and using a humidifier or nasal spray can also help.
Although cluster headaches are the least common type of headache, they are one of the most painful, described as throbbing, burning, constant, or piercing. They are marked by intense pain concentrated around one eye — enough to wake you up and make you pace — and often occur seasonally, in the spring or fall. If the usual pain relief and preventive medications do not help, surgery to block the trigeminal nerve is another option. Recent studies have been testing whether small doses of hallucinogenic drugs may help relieve cluster headaches, as some patients claim.
Overuse of pain medication can make your headaches worse and even cause new headaches, often referred to as rebound headaches. Rebound headaches are especially likely if your medication includes caffeine and become cyclical. As the medicine wears off, you experience withdrawal symptoms; you relieve them by taking more medicine, then rebound into another headache. The best treatment is to discontinue or gradually decrease use of the pain reliever in question.
Of course, headaches can also be triggered by a variety of lifestyle factors, including alcohol, poor posture, and stress. Since they are often symptoms of a larger problem, it is always best to discuss the specifics of your headaches with your doctor so that a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can be made.