What is a Headache?
It is likely that nearly all of us will experience a headache during our lifetime. A headache refers to any pain felt around the head, face, or neck area. There are several types of headaches, that are brought on by many different causes. We explore the different types of headaches, their causes, tips for managing headaches and when to seek medical advice.
Signs and Symptoms
Sinuses are air-filled spaces within the bones around the nose. Inflammation of congestion can cause pain and tenderness, usually around the eyes, cheeks or your forehead. Sinus pain may only affect one side of your face and is often worse when bending forward or lying down.
Allergy and infection can cause sinus inflammation, which can lead to a sinus headache. If the sinuses become infected or congested, the pressure builds up in these spaces, causing a headache.
Several non-prescription medications and nasal sprays are available to help ease the pain of a sinus headache.
Phenylephrine is an oral decongestant that reduces nasal congestion and pressure in the sinuses. It comes in a tablet form as a single ingredient or in a combination product with a simple pain reliever, paracetamol, to specifically target sinus pain. Oral decongestants are less effective than intranasal decongestants, but do not cause rebound nasal congestion.
Decongestant nasal sprays and drops relieve nasal congestion quickly and give relief for 6 to 8 hours at a time. They can cause transient burning or stinging, but be conscious of the fact there is the possibility that they cause rebound congestion if used for more than 4 to 5 days in a row. Sprays contain ingredients such as Oxymetazoline and xylometazoline. Keep dose and length of treatment (up to 5 days) to a minimum to reduce risk of rebound congestion (may take several weeks to reverse). Oral products are the preferred choice for prolonged use.
Sodium chloride 0.9% solution (nose drops, irrigation or spray) is another good option for all people with sinus headaches and is the preferred treatment choice for children. It can be used safely and does not cause rebound congestion.
Signs and Symptoms
A tension headache is the most common type of headache. It often feels like a tight band of pressure around your head, or a dull ache on both sides of your head. It tends to worsen as the day goes on and may last from 30 minutes to several days.
A tension headache is thought to be due to muscle tightness in the scalp, forehead and the back of the neck, bought on by certain foods, activities or stressors.
Most people find pain relief eases the severity of a tension headache. Non-prescription pain relievers, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, are recommended depending on your medical history.
Paracetamol is a good first choice for mild pain relief, as it is tolerated well by many people and is suitable for people who cannot take anti-inflammatories. Paracetamol comes in many different formulations, including tablets, mini capsules, liquid, soluble tablets and suppositories, so choose the form that best suits your needs.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID)
NSAIDs reduce pain and inflammation and comes in various forms of tablets, capsules and liquid for convenient dosing. NSAIDs must be taken with food or milk. If your headache is caused by muscular tension, you may find further relief from a magnesium supplement, physiotherapy, acupuncture or massage.
Magnesium assists in the normal functioning of muscle and nerve tissue and can help to relieve muscular pain and spasms. It comes in a powder and tablet form, although the powder form is the best option, as it is easily absorbed, is gentle on the gut and comes with a combination of amino acids, B vitamins and other supportive nutrients.
Signs and Symptoms
A migraine is a severe, throbbing headache commonly lasting from 4 to 72 hours. It is usually felt on only one side of the head and often behind the eye and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise. Some people can also experience an aura (e.g. flashing lights, blurred vision, tingling or numbness), up to an hour before the pain starts.
Doctors believe there are ‘triggers’ that bring on a migraine. Some common migraine triggers are listed below:
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Flickering lights from a TV or a computer screen
- Heat, lights, glare or noise
- Chemicals, such as those found in petrol and perfume
- Cheese, coffee, nuts, chocolate, oranges, tomatoes, some food additives and preservatives
- Delaying or missing a meal
- Hormonal changes – periods, hormone pills and menopause
- Strenuous exercise, including sex
- Stress, excitement or fatigue
- Relaxation after a stressful time
Although most of the time a migraine may be caused by a minor trigger, there are times where this type of headache can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. If you are unsure of what is triggering your migraines, visit your GP to discuss your symptoms.
Below is a list of simple lifestyle strategies that can help you manage your migraine pain.
- Place a cold flannel or cooling gel sheet on your forehead or neck
- Avoid moving around too much
- Some people find relief from ‘sleeping off’ an attack
- Complementary treatments may help. Examples include relaxation (yoga and meditation), acupuncture and aromatherapy
- Think about what may have caused your migraine and avoid that trigger
How to Manage Migraine Headaches
Follow the below five tips to help manage your migraine pain.
What are Chronic Headaches?
Chronic refers to how often the headaches occur and how long the condition lasts. Chronic daily headaches occur 15 days or more a month, for longer than three months. The length of daily chronic headaches can be short-lasting and long-lasting (more than four hours).
Chronic Headache Risk Factors
Below is a list of psychological and physical risk factors associated with developing frequent headaches:
- Female sex
- Sleep disturbances
- Overuse of caffeine
- Overuse of headache medication
- Other chronic pain conditions
When To Visit Your GP
Although most of the time a headache may be caused by a minor irritation, there are times where a headache can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. If you experience chronic headaches, it is important to see your GP to investigate any underlying conditions. It is also important to seek medical advice if you experience any of the below symptoms.
- You have a very bad, blinding headache that appears suddenly and gets worse
- You have had a severe head injury
- You experience a sudden headache when you cough, laugh, sneeze or move
- You present symptoms including slurred speech, confusion, weakness, drowsiness, memory loss, or have trouble walking
- You have a fever, stiff neck, rash, pain in the jaw when you chew, vision problems, a sore scalp or bad pain in an eye