A headache refers to pain in any region of the head. Headaches can appear as sharp pain, dull aches or a throbbing sensation. They can occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated, radiate across the head or feel like something is squeezing your head. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly and last anywhere from less than an hour to several days.
There are over 300 types of headaches, most with unknown causes. Most headaches fall under the category of primary headaches and include.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These can range from mild to moderate and can happen either infrequently or, for some people, several times a week.
A typical tension headache feels like a dull, squeezing pain on both sides of the head and can sometimes extend down to the neck and shoulders. Tension headaches can last from 20 minutes to two hours. An over-the-counter pain reliever, heating pad, a short nap, snack, yoga or a shower can help relieve a tension headache.
Migraines happen less often than tension headaches but are more severe in pain. Migraines are more common in women than in men. However, men over the age of 40 who suffer from migraines may be more likely to experience a heart attack.
Genetics play a role in about 70% of migraines. In fact, most people who suffer from migraines have at least one close relative or family member who also suffers from migraines.
Migraines are often preceded by several hours of fatigue, sluggishness, restlessness, depression or irritability and often begin in the evening or during sleep. Some people also experience an aura along with their migraine. An aura is a visual symptom that can include seeing halos, flashing lights, wavy lines, sparkles and in some cases, temporary vision loss.
The majority of people who get migraines don’t experience an aura. In most cases, migraine pain starts on one side of the head, often around the eye and temple, and spreads to the back of the head. Migraine pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating and can be combined with nausea.
Some symptoms of migraines are similar to those of sinus headaches. To differentiate from sinus headaches, we recommend using the acronym POUND.
Unilateral (one-sided) pain
Nausea and vomiting
Migraine attacks can last from four to 24 hours. Treating a migraine with over-the-counter pain relievers and a combination of caffeine can help stop the pain if taken very early in the attack. If over-the-counter medications are not effective in treating a migraine, doctors may prescribe triptans or preventative medications to their patients.
Cluster headaches are the most uncommon, but most severe type of headache. These types of headaches are more typical among middle-aged men with a history of smoking. Cluster headaches get their name as they tend to come in clusters, with one to eight headaches a day, and often happen every year or two during the same time of year.
These types of headaches happen very abruptly and can last 30 minutes to an hour. Cluster headaches cause severe pain on one side of the head and cause the eye to be red, painful, watery and droopy. The nose can also run or be blocked and there may be associated nausea and sensitivity to light. Those who suffer from cluster headaches may become restless and agitated during the attack.
Cluster headaches can be treated by inhaling high-flow oxygen or with other medications including triptans or verapamil.