Types of Headaches - Learn about the differences

Most of us have had a headache at one time or another, perhaps a mild, nagging ache that went away with a few over the counter pain relievers. But many Australians suffer from headaches that range from mild to intolerable and many suffer this ailment on a regular basis. So what are the different headache types, what steps can you take on your own and when is it time to see a professional? There are several different types of headaches and it is important to determine what type of headache is causing your discomfort or pain. Knowing what kind of headache you are experiencing will help you treat it correctly.

Tension Headaches

These are sometimes referred to as stress headaches and they are the most common type of headache. Sufferers generally report mild to moderate pressure, throbbing, pain and tightness around the forehead, back of head or neck. These headaches can last from a half-hour to several days and are likely to come and go. Most people can typically go about their day, albeit with the nagging discomfort. There is no one cause of tension headaches and there are a host of possible triggers. If you get a tension headache, they are most effectively treated when the symptoms first appear. Over-the-counter pain relievers are the first line of defense.

Eyestrain Headaches

Eyestrain, also called asthenopia, and the accompanying headaches occur when your eyes become taxed from concentrated use like long periods of driving reading or at the computer. These are extremely common headaches especially as the use of computes and mobile devices increases. If you find yourself with an eyestrain headache, you can usually treat it by resting your eyes and taking a break from whatever you were doing. If you must be at your computer for work, increase the resolution, adjust the room’s lighting and take moments to look around the room to break from the intense focus on the screen. There are no long-term risks associated with eye strain or eye strain headaches, but if you have an ongoing issue or sever eye pain, see your opthamologist right away.

Sinus Headaches

Sometimes when you have an infection or allergies, your sinuses may become inflamed and blocked and the increased pressure can cause a sinus headache. Sinus headache sufferers report a constant, deep pain around the cheekbones, forehead or event he bridge of the nose. It is not unusual for the discomfort to increase with head movements and the pain is often accompanied by other sinus issues like a stuffy or runny nose, feelings of pressure in the ears, facial swelling and fever if there is an infection. Treatment of sinus headaches usually involves symptom relief. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat any infection you have and decongestants and antihistamines might be useful in the short term to alleviate discomfort.

Migraine Headaches

Among the worst of the headache types is the migraine. Anyone who has ever had one can attest to the debilitating, painful, lengthy discomfort of a migraine. Migraines can last from hours to days and symptoms can include:
  • Pain on either side of your head
  • Pain with a pounding, pulsating, throbbing feeling
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds & smells
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Blurred vision

Migraine headaches often remain undiagnosed and untreated, although there are a variety of things both you and your health care provider can do to minimise the frequency of attacks or bring you some relief when a migraine headache hits. If you are experiencing regular headaches that you think may be migraines, make an appointment with your doctor or health care provider to discuss your headaches and establish a treatment approach.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches get their name because they generally occur in cyclical patterns or clusters. Cluster headaches, along with migraines, are one of the most painful headache types. Cluster periods can last a few weeks or a few months and then there is usually a period where the headache attacks cease completely.Although they are incredibly painful and disconcerting, cluster headaches are not common and not life-threatening.Typical signs and symptoms of a cluster headache include:
  • High level pain in or around the eye, possibly radiating to other areas of the face, head and neck
  • Pain on only one side of face
  • Agitation & restlessness
  • Eye tearing, redness & swelling in the eye of the affected side
  • Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
  • Reduced pupil size
  • Drooping eyelid

The pain of a cluster headache is often described as unbearable and sharp. This is not a headache where you typically function well. If you have begun to experience cluster headaches, be certain to visit your health care provider to rule out other disorders and to find the most effective treatment.

When to See Your Doctor or Health Care Provider

Headache pain, even when very painful, is not typically the result of an underlying disease. Although rare, headaches may indicate an underlying medical condition that require medical attention. So when you first experience a headache and it reoccurs, you should visit your doctor to rule out any serious conditions.Likewise, if you have a history of headaches, visit your health care professional if the headache pattern changes or your headaches suddenly feel different or get much more severe. If you experience any of the following, seek immediate medical care:
  • Abrupt, severe headache
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, numbness, or speaking difficulties,
  • Headache after head injury, even if seems minor, especially if the pain becomes worse
  • Sudden, severe headache unlike any other headache you have experienced

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