Headaches Explained: The Different Types & What They Mean
What a pain! There are many different types of headaches, and their causes vary. Although most headaches are short-lived and are rarely a cause for concern, recognizing which kind of headache you are experiencing can help you treat it and decide whether it is time to see a doctor.
Our team at Impact Med explains the different types of headaches and what they can mean for your health.
Headaches are one of the most common health complaints, and while they can sometimes be painful and debilitating, the majority can be treated with painkillers and will go away within a few hours.
Headaches are defined as pain “in any region of the head,” and the headache pain’s cause, duration, and intensity can vary according to the type of headache.
Seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the following alongside a headache:
- Stiff neck
- The worst headache you’ve ever had (thunderclap headache)
- Slurred speech
- Any fever of 100.4°F or higher
- Paralysis or visual loss
Headaches are divided into two main categories—primary and secondary.
Primary headaches are not caused by another condition—they are the condition. If your headache is not being triggered by an illness or allergies, it is considered primary.
Primary headaches can be episodic or chronic.
- Episodic headaches: Occur occasionally and can last anywhere from half an hour to several hours.
- Chronic headaches: Occur most of the days in the month and can last for days at a time. In this case, pain management is often necessary.
Tension headaches are characterized by a dull aching sensation all over your head—not throbbing. You may also feel tenderness or nerve pain around your neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles.
Tension headaches are often triggered by stress, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can help relieve occasional symptoms. If a tension headache becomes chronic, a doctor may suggest a course of action to address the underlying headache trigger.
Cluster headaches cause severe burning or piercing pain. They generally occur around or behind one eye or on one side of the face. Swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating can occur on the side that is affected by the headache. Nasal congestion and tearing of the eye can also occur.
Cluster headaches occur in a series, with each headache lasting from 15 minutes to around three hours. During a cluster episode, most people experience one to four headaches a day, usually around the same time each day. After one headache resolves, another soon follows.
A series of cluster headaches can occur daily for months at a time and are more common in spring and fall.
Though doctors are unsure of what causes cluster headaches, there are effective ways to treat symptoms such as oxygen therapy, medication, or local anesthetics to provide pain relief.
The pain caused by migraines is intense and pulses from deep in your head. The worst part? It can last for days. Migraine pain is usually one-sided and often causes sensitivity to light and sound, as well as nausea or vomiting.
Some migraines are preceded by visual disturbances called auras before the migraine starts. You may see:
- Flashing lights
- Shimmering lights
- Zigzag lines
- Blind spots
Migraines can be genetic, or they can be associated with nervous system conditions.
Common migraine triggers include:
- Sleep disruption
- Skipping meals
- Certain foods
- Hormone fluctuations
- Exposure to chemicals
- Smells like perfume or candles
Triptans are often prescribed for migraines if OTC pain relievers don’t work. Triptans decrease changes of blood flow within the brain and treat inflammation.
Secondary headaches are caused by something else, such as a head injury, or caffeine withdrawal. Treating the primary cause of the headache will generally bring relief.
Common secondary headaches include:
Allergy or Sinus Headaches
People who have chronic allergies are susceptible to these kinds of headaches. Nasal steroid sprays or OTC decongestants may relieve sinus headaches. Though if you have a sinus infection your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection and relieve your headache.
Menstruation, pregnancy, and the use of birth control pills can all cause headaches due to fluctuations in estrogen levels. Many women also get migraines around the time of menstruation each month and can get relief with relaxation techniques, yoga, acupuncture, and eating a migraine-friendly diet.
We all love our morning cup of coffee but having too much can give you a headache because caffeine affects the flow of blood around your brain. People who have frequent migraines can trigger a headache with caffeine use.
Headaches can also occur from withdrawal from caffeine. This may be because caffeine changes the chemistry of your brain and can trigger a headache when your body doesn’t get its “fix” of caffeine for the day.
Head Injury Headaches
Minor bumps to the head or neck can cause a headache to occur and are often like a migraine or tension headache.
Always call an ambulance for serious head injuries, or if someone experiences the following after a head injury:
- Memory loss
- Vision or hearing problems
Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a throbbing headache the next morning. While there is no cure for a hangover, you can relieve symptoms by drinking plenty of water, and eating sugary foods. Symptoms usually subside within 72 hours.
Medication Overuse Headache
Sometimes called a rebound headache, medication-overuse headaches (MOH) are the most common secondary headaches. A MOH is characterized as a frequent or daily headache with symptoms like tension headaches or migraines.
Initially, these headaches respond to painkillers, but will then reoccur later.
MOH can result from taking painkillers more than 15 days per month. Drugs that can cause MOH can include:
- NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen
The only treatment for a MOH is to stop taking the medication that is causing the headaches, and symptoms will likely worsen before they improve. Headaches generally stop within 10 days after stopping the medication use.
Get Headache Relief
Say goodbye to headaches and get relief at Impact Med Sun City Center. From our primary care services and massage therapy to chiropractic care, we can create a headache relief plan that is right for you.
Don’t suffer from headaches anymore. Call Impact Med Sun City Center for a consultation today—813-938-5195!