The headache is probably the most common source of pain experienced by human beings around the world. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live or what you do in your spare time, we’ve all experienced a headache and we’ll all experience one again. While frustrating, they’re a natural part of life. Without them, it may be much harder to tell when things are seriously wrong with our eyes, brains and other body parts.
So, as much as you dislike that throbbing pain, it can tell you a lot about your health and whether you need to consult with a doctor. Here are some common headaches and their possible causes.
Some of the headaches listed are as ‘primary headaches.’ This means the pain is not a symptom of a more prominent condition such as an allergy or illness.
Other headaches are listed as ‘secondary headaches’ because they are not the epicentre of the problem. They are a symptom of an issue occurring elsewhere in the body such as high blood pressure. These are the headaches to monitor carefully and get help for if symptoms persist or worsen.
Tension Headaches (Primary)
Tension headaches differ from many other types of headache because they come without throbbing sensations. Instead, they are defined by a dull, aching sensation and tenderness right across the neck, forehead and scalp. Sometimes, this sensitivity extends down into the shoulder region aswell.
These headaches are not dangerous and normally develop during times of stress. Over the counter medications like ibuprofen and aspirin are often powerful enough to treat the symptoms of tension headaches.
Cluster Headaches (Primary)
This type of headache is rarely associated with any medical risk or danger. However, the symptoms can be severe. Cluster headaches can cause not just intense, throbbing pain but also burning sensations, facial swelling, sweating, streaming of the eyes and nose as with a common cold and flushing of the skin.
Crucially, this type of headache is identified by its location. Unlike a tension headache, it is normally felt lower down behind one eye. While it may move to be felt behind the other eye, the pain rarely affects both sides of the face at one time. Cluster headaches can occur in groups of between one and four per day.
Common Migraine (Primary)
Migraines are a severe type of headache which can inhibit a sufferer’s ability to carry out routine tasks. Regular function is impaired because the pain may be so intense a person becomes sensitive to noise and light. In some severe cases, they may even experience nausea and vomiting.
Migraine pain is usually (but not always) localised to one side of the head. It manifests itself as a deep pulsing sensation. One thing to be aware of is the similarity between severe migraine and stroke symptoms: blind spots, tingling in the face or arms, trouble verbalising, etc. Unless you’re aware of a personal propensity for migraines this severe, consider consulting a doctor if you experience these symptoms
Allergy/Sinus Headaches (Secondary)
Sometimes, headaches are a symptom of an allergic reason. In these cases, the pain tends to be located around the affected sinus areas and/or across the front of the head and face. Interestingly, up to 90% of allergy headaches are not really sinus problems at all; they’re misdiagnosed migraines.
This doesn’t mean that your headache is definitely not a sinus problem. However, it’s only likely if you have a history of seasonal allergies or recurring sinusitis. Either condition can increase the risk of developing this type of pain. The good news is allergy headaches can be treated quickly with the use of a nasal steroid spray or decongestant.
Hormone Headaches (Secondary)
It is very common for women to experience headaches shortly before or during their period. They’re often referred to as ‘menstrual migraines’ because they’re caused by hormonal changes resulting from ovulation and the fertility cycle. Any time of substantial hormonal change – not just menstruation – can cause a headache of this type.
For instance, some women suffer with hormone headaches during pregnancy, menopause and in response to hormone altering birth control. For most sufferers, over the counter medications like naproxen and frovatripan are strong enough to quell the pain.
Caffeine Headaches (Secondary)
One common cause of migraines which is environmental in nature is the caffeine headache, so called because it’s caused by an overload of the stimulant. There is such a thing as too much coffee and the consequence is a painful headache.
Although, it should be pointed out that lack of caffeine can also cause headaches or migraines. Specifically, if a person tries to reduce their caffeine intake too quickly (by going ‘cold turkey’), they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and mild tremors. Caffeine cessation is best approached in stages, so the brain has time to adapt to not having its anticipated caffeine boost.
Exertion Headaches (Secondary)
Exertion headaches occur after periods of intense physical activity. They are most common following heart pumping pursuits like weightlifting, running or intense sexual intercourse. As the pain has a clear and obvious cause, these headaches are normally brief and easily to remedy. Sufferers can take over the counter painkillers or simply wait for their heart rate to stabilise and their blood pressure to drop.
While not serious in isolation, exertion headaches should not be a common ailment for reasonably healthy individuals. If these headaches are recurring and do not wane as you grow accustomed to the trigger activity, consult with your doctor.