Health Matters | Have a Headache?

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Have a Headache?

It’s one of those busy days—your child’s school project is due tomorrow, and she needs your help building a volcano tonight; you’re stuck working late with half a dozen meetings; your neighbor’s dog woke you up at 3a.m.; and who has time for lunch? The last thing you need today is a headache.

Headaches can range from a simple annoyance to crippling pain. Knowing what is ailing you is the first step to getting rid of that pain in the…head.

Common Types of Headaches
  • Tension – This is the most common type of headache and feels like pressure, aching, or throbbing on both sides of the head. The pain, which is mild to moderate, can also be on the back of the head and neck. Tension headaches can be triggered by different things, including bad posture, stress, anxiety, and even clenching your jaw. Typically, over-the-counter pain relievers will take care of these.
  • Sinus – These headaches are associated with a deep, constant pain in the cheekbones, nose, and forehead. The pain can intensify with sudden movements, and the sufferer may also have a runny nose, fever, congestion, watery eyes, and clogged ears.
  • Migraine – Pain can get pretty severe during a migraine headache, with throbbing on one or both sides of the forehead. Other common symptoms that identify a migraine are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and/or sound. Migraines are more common in women than men. The exact cause of migraines is not clear, but typical triggers include changes in eating patterns, sleeping patterns, stress, or hormones.
  • Cluster – These are the least common, but most painful headaches. The good news is cluster headaches are short, lasting 15 minutes to 3 hours. But the good news ends there. Known as “suicide headaches,” the sharp, excruciating pain is behind one eye. There could be redness or tearing in the eye and the sufferer may pace or walk around during the attack because the pain is so severe they cannot sit still. These are called cluster headaches because there is typically a group of attacks over a few days or months. They can disappear completely or return months or years later. These are more common in men than women. Smoking and alcohol use can trigger cluster headaches.

Causes of Headaches
While some headaches may be caused by internal factors, most are triggered by something in your daily life.

Triggers can vary from foods you eat to how you slouch in your desk chair. Things like caffeine and alcohol can be triggers and should be avoided if you are prone to intense pain. Foods, such as chocolate, nuts, pickled foods, figs and raisins, citrus fruits, and foods with nitrites, nitrates, or MSG, can also cause headaches. Common things, like flickering lights and strong odors, could be the culprit for some people. Stress is another common trigger; so are changes in habits, like eating or sleeping patterns, which can spark the pain for others.

The causes of headaches are different for everyone. If your headaches are common or persistent, try keeping a headache diary. Track your diet and sleep patterns, along with the intensity and duration of the headache. This could help identify your triggers.

Different people often need different treatments to get rid of headache pain. Most of us use over-the-counter medications but other treatments include:
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Sleep
  • Prescription medication

See a doctor if your headaches do not improve with over-the-counter medication, or are more frequent or severe than usual. Headaches that affect work, sleep, or normal activities also need a physician’s attention. Be sure to consult your doctor before trying any new treatment.

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