The location of your head pain can be an important clue in determining what type of headache you have and the potential remedies.
Headaches are very common. In fact, it’s estimated that about half to three quarters of adults have experienced some type of headache within the last year.
Chronic headache, which means 15 or more headache days every month, affects between 1.7 to 4 percent of adults.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of headaches based on location, as well as when it’s important to seek medical care.
The whole-head headache can feel like there’s a tight band around your head. This often indicates a tension headache, the most common primary headache disorder.
However, it’s important to point out that there are times when migraine pain can be holocranial. This means the pain can be felt around the head instead of just on one side.
With a tension headache, pain and pressure may extend to your neck, and you may also feel pain and tenderness around your forehead.
Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in your head and neck. This type of headache tends to last a few hours, but can linger for days.
A tension headache can be caused by stress or neck problems. However, you might also have an all-over headache from:
1. caffeine withdrawal
2. physical exertion
6. having a cold or flu
7. head trauma
8. eye strain or staring at a computer for too long
9. using too much headache medicine, also known as rebound headache
An occasional tension headache doesn’t typically require medical attention. Do see your doctor if you experience 15 or more headache days per month.
Migraine is a primary headache disorder that causes recurrent attacks. Symptoms of migraine typically include:
1. throbbing, pulsating pain
2. nausea or vomiting
4. noise, light, and odor sensitivities
5. difficulty focusing
Migraine can be caused by a variety of contributing factors, including changes in brain chemicals. In particular, a decrease in serotonin levels.
Many other factors may also trigger an attack, such as:
1. loud sounds
2. bright or flashing lights
3. specific odors
4. certain foods
5. changes in weather conditions
6. lack of sleep
7. hormonal changes
8. skipping meals
These triggers vary from person to person. It can even be a combination of factors that bring on an attack. It’s not always possible to identify triggers.
Cluster headache is another primary headache disorder that causes pain on one side of the head.
The pain is often located behind or around one of your eyes. In some cases, the pain may spread to your forehead, side of your head, nose, neck, or shoulders on the same side.
Cluster headaches tend to occur in cycles or, as the name suggests, “clusters.” You may experience headaches for a few weeks or months, followed by a remission period.
These headaches often come on suddenly and the pain usually becomes severe within about 10 minutes of starting.
Some common symptoms of a cluster headache include:
1. burning, stabbing pain behind or around one eye
2. a red, teary eye
3. a smaller, constricted pupil
4. a drooping eyelid
5. puffiness under or around one or both eyes
6. runny or stuffy nose
7. facial flushing
8. feeling restless
Once you get the right diagnosis, migraine and cluster headaches can be treated and managed.
Medication overuse and head trauma can also cause pain on one side of the head.
However, true sinus headaches tend to be rare. These headaches usually turn out to be migraine, which can cause pain over the sinuses.
A headache behind your eyes is rarely related to eyestrain.
If you think you’re having sinus headaches, consider seeing your doctor to get a diagnosis. Your doctor can help determine if your headache is truly caused by allergies, or if it could be migraine.
This type of headache can also be due to poor posture or neck problems such as a herniated disc.
A back of the head headache, often accompanied by neck pain, can also be a sign of a low-pressure headache, otherwise known as spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH). It’s caused by low spinal fluid pressure in the brain.
Another sign of SIH is that the pain eases when you lie down, but worsens when you:
1. sit upright
3. cough or sneeze
5. engage in physical activity
This type of headache can occur following a lumbar puncture. If you’ve recently had this procedure and develop a headache, see your doctor as soon as possible for treatment.
If you have any type of chronic headache, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor or healthcare provider. Headaches are considered chronic if they happen 15 days or more per month.
By identifying your specific type of headache, your doctor can determine the best type of treatment. Getting the right kind of treatment for your headache may help improve your overall quality of life.
Sometimes, a headache can indicate a more serious medical condition such as:
4. encephalitis (inflammation of the brain tissue)
5. brain tumor
Signs that you may need immediate medical attention for a headache include:
1. sudden onset of severe headache
2. a rigid neck
3. double vision
4. weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
5. numbness on either side of the body
6. balance and coordination problems
7. speech difficulties
8. high fever
10. reduced or altered consciousness level
Everyone is different, so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for your headaches.
Here are some ways that you may be able to help ease your headache pain with self-care:
1. Lie down in a dark, quiet room. Take a nap if you can.
2. Apply ice or a cold compress to the area that hurts. Some people find that heat works better.
3. Drink water to stay hydrated.
4. Do some deep breathing exercises.
5. Take over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories as directed. Be careful, because taking too many can lead to rebound headaches.
6. Drink a little caffeine.
For chronic headaches, your doctor may prescribe medications based on the specific type of headache you have. These medicines include:
2. ergot derivative drugs
3. combination analgesics and caffeine
Preventive medications for chronic headache include:
3. calcium channel blockers
4. calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists
5. onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox)
6. selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
7. serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
8. tricyclic antidepressants
The area of your head that hurts can tell you something about the type of headache you’re having. Other symptoms and the frequency of your headache pain can tell you a lot more.
If your headaches aren’t too severe or frequent, home remedies and OTC medicines may help get you through them.
If you get headaches frequently, or the pain disrupts your daily life, be sure to follow up with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
A headache that’s accompanied by certain symptoms can be a sign of a more serious condition. If you have head pain with symptoms such as partial paralysis, high fever, blurred vision, or speech difficulties, please contact a doctor for proper diagnosis as soon as possible.
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