The head is one of the most common sites of pain in the body. A headache doesn’t just have to be localized to the whole head, but can also include the face, the jaws and a single side of the head. The pain of the headache can also radiate to other parts of the body like the neck, the shoulders and the lower back. The pain could be squeezing, throbbing, unrelenting, constant, or intermittent. In rare cases, a headache may signal more serious problems like meningitis or brain tumor. There are different causes for different types of headaches. Sometimes, the pain might feel like it is radiating from the brain, but the brain itself does not have pain receptors so it cannot feel any pain. Doctors believe that the tissues surrounding the brain, blood vessels, brain chemicals and nerves can produce the pain signals. With recent innovation in technology, we know more about what causes headaches and the different types of headaches than we did 20 years ago. Below are some of the most common types of headaches and their causes:
Cluster headaches last for a short amount of time, anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours, but can be excruciatingly painful. The pain is so immense, that cluster headaches are also referred to as suicide headaches. Once they begin, cluster headaches can recur regularly. They can even repeat a few times a day for a certain period of time, which is then followed by a headache-free period of months, or even years. There can also be redness and tearing in one eye, or both eyes, and is more common in men than women. These headaches are usually treated with triptans or oxygen. Alcohol, cigarettes, high altitudes and certain foods can be the trigger for cluster headaches.
Migraines are one of the most severe headaches, and are almost three times more common in women than men. Though the cause for their onset isn’t clear, research has showed that genes play a role, and that brain cell activity could affect blood vessels and nerve cell functioning. A common trigger for a migraine headache is change, including hormonal changes, stress, and sleeping and eating patterns. Treatment includes medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and triptans like Imitrex or Zomig.
Rebound headaches are chronic headaches that are caused by overuse of medication. Taking painkillers regularly, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, or ibuprofen (Mortin, Advil) more than twice a week, or taking triptans for more than 10 days a month can raise the risk of developing rebound headaches in only a few months. Approaching a doctor can help you figure out the culprit drug, which will then be replaced by an alternative until the original drug is out of your system.
Tensions headaches are the most common type of headache, and can feel like a constant aching or pressure on both sides of the head, or on your neck or the back of your head. The most common triggers are stress, bad posture, and clenching your jaw and these headaches can be chronic but not severe. The causes are still unknown, though it is believed that it may be due to altered brain chemicals or mixed nerve signals that lead to the brain. Over the counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophens relieve these headaches, and stress relief may also help.
Dental related conditions like bruxism or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can trigger headaches or face pain. TMJ affects the joints that connect the jaw to the skull, located just in the front of the ear. It is caused by bad jaw alignment, stress, poor posture or arthritis that affects the cartilage, muscles or the ligaments in the jaw. Bruxism is the grinding of teeth during the night. Treatment for TMJ includes stretching the jaw, hot and cold packs, and stress reduction. Wearing bite guards can help reduce the effects of bruxism.
Caffeine headaches are caused by caffeine withdrawal. If you’re used to having 5 cups of coffee a day, and don’t have any coffee for a while, you’re at risk of a caffeine headache. Also, if you’re used to a 9 a.m. coffee fix during the weekdays, and end up sleeping in on the weekend, you might again bring on a caffeine headache. Doctors suggest that you either stick to a routine to get the caffeine fix every day, or quit caffeine completely.
These headaches, as the name suggests, are caused by an orgasm. This is a rare condition, and is most common in younger people and in men. They start shortly after intercourse begins, and end in a “thunderclap” headache at climax. After this, a dull headache can continue through the day. There is no known cause for these headaches, and they tend to go away on their own after a while. Taking a painkiller before sex can help to ease the pain.
Sinus headaches and migraine headaches are often confused with each other. In fact, a study noted that 88% of people with a history of sinus headaches actually had migraine headaches instead. This is because symptoms like sinus pressure, nasal congestion and watery eyes can happen in both types of headaches. Moreover, a sinus headache does not have sensitivity to light and nausea. A proper sinus infection develops due to an infection, has nasal discharge that is green and tinged with red, and is resolved when treated with antibiotics.