First things first
Lets dispel some fears about headaches, whether you are chronic sufferer or you've just experienced your first headache it will have crossed your mind that it might not just be a headache but something really serious like a brain tumour or a haemorrhage??? Yes, everyone at some point has that thought...but here are the facts. The chances are of it being anything serious is quite rare, that's not to say they don't happen but fortunately they are still quite rare. So, what could be causing your headache I hear you ask....? Well the most common reasons are dehydration, we don't drink enough fluids throughout the day and ironically when you take a painkiller for the headache, its not the actual drug thats working, its the fact you've drank some fluids with it and that's what helps to ease the headache. The second most common reason for a headache is tiredness or simply a lack of sleep, taking a duvet day or getting some early nights can do wonders to recharge your batteries. The third most common reason for a heachache is due to your eyesight, ask yourself when was the last time you had your eyes tested by an optician? Your eyes change with age and if your eyes are straining it will instigate a headache, also an optician can pick up on other health issues through a sight test so getting an eye test every two years is vital.
There are numerous other reasons for a headache such as hormones, sinus infection, stomach upset, neck tightness, stress, alcohol, etc etc etc. There are also different types of headaches which I will discuss later in this article, but suffice to say that if you have just started getting headaches or if your headaches have suddenly got worse then a visit to your GP is needed, just to rule out a serious medical issue that could be causing them.
Which type of headache?
As I mentioned there is more than one type of headache and this post is not for self diagnosis, you must always see a doctor for an official diagnosis when it comes to headaches. But if you have already been diagnosed with your headache type then you will know which one you suffer with....
The most common types of headache are:
Tension-type headaches: This is the most common type of headache among adults and teenagers...
This type of headache may feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head. It sometimes feels like a band around the forehead, or a pressure on top of your head. You may also feel the neck muscles tighten and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes. A tension headache won't normally won't be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities and it usually lasts for between 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days. It can be caused by a number of things but the most common is stress / anxiety, dehydration, tiredness, and poor posture.
Migraine: This condition is accompanied by intense headache that affects one side of the head...and I mean intense!
You may experience nausea and / or vomitting, noise or light sensitivity and even visual disturbances. Sometimes, you may experience numbness or pins and needles, people also report dizziness or difficulty speaking. Experiencing a migraine for the first time can be rather frightening but please be assured they are very common. Research into migraines has come a long way and its now known that several things cause them such as hormones, diet, low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), smells....to name just a few triggers.
Cluster headaches: This type is intense and feels like a burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye, either throbbing or constant.
Fortunately, these are not as common as tension or migraine headaches but they are still extremely painful. Other symptoms you may experience are a blocked or runny nose, drooping eyelid, sweating face, red or watering eye. Unfortuately, no one knows what causes cluster headaches but it is thought that people who smoke or those who are sensitve to strong smells tend to suffer from them. Although, cluster headache attacks tend to be shorter in duration, they tend to be more frequent and people can suffer several cluster headache attacks in one day.
Sinus headaches: This type tends to be more associated with colds and flu, it's caused by an infection in the sinuses and you may experience a blocked nose, toothache, a green or yellow discharge from the nose, swelling around your nose and / or forehead, and possibly a reduced sense of smell. People can experience a similar type of headache from allergies or hayfever, so it is important to establish with your G.P. what your specific issue is.
There are many other reasons for a headache and if you are concerned about yours then speak to your G.P. and remember if one comes on very suddenly and is severe, especially with children phone your emergency services without delay.
So how do you stop a headache?
Prevention is much better than cure, so if you can find ways of stopping the headaches from occuring, that is much better than popping a few pills. In the case of tension headaches, find ways to relax such as exercise, doing a hobby, getting regular massage or having acupuncture are good choices. Drink plenty of water and look at your lifestyle, is your job stressing you out? Or do you feel like you are burning the candle at both ends trying to get everything done. Although this is not easy, try to talk to someone about your situation, or perhaps write everything down. When things are written it sometimes helps to see things much better about our lives and we can start to make simple changes. Possibly do some meditation, there are plenty to be found on the internet, this will not only help your headache but your whole wellbeing, and don't forget to have some fun. It may not seem like it but life in the 21st Century is rather hectic and stressful, so take some time for you to relax and have fun. Now onto migraines.... I'm going to let you all in a little secret here, I am a chronic migraine sufferer and have been most of my life. I remember having my first one as a child and migraines are not something I would wish on anyone, they are truly awful. Fortunately, I know what triggers mine and if you can find out what triggers yours that will really help. I have to watch my diet as mine are related to certain foods, and I cannot tolerate preservatives, artifical sweetners, or MSG. I also have to be careful of not burning the candle at both ends and getting overtired as this will trigger one too, I also find very strong smells like paint can cause them, as can infections such as cold and flu. So I view my migraines as rather useful because they act as a barometer to know my internal health. There are several drugs your G.P. maybe able to prescribe, but sometimes finding the one that works for you can take a bit of trial and error. I manage mine with acupuncture because I know acupuncture really does help control them, my clients will also testify that acupuncture helps theirs too. I know when I've slipped a bit treating myself, because I'll push my diet or encounter a trigger and one will kick off big style to remind me. This piece of research is absolutely wonderful and if you are a fellow migraine sufferer its definately worth a read. ?
Cluster headaches are excruciating painful and again there are several drugs your G.P. maybe able to prescribe to help them. I can advise on both acupuncture and hypnotherapy as these can reduce the pain and the episode frequency, and whilst occasionally cluster headaches do eventually stop. The majority of people will suffer with them for life. Again, some research has suggested that diet may play a part in cluster headaches the same as migraines so it maybe worth looking at that part of your life to see whether there is a relationship. If you feel there is a relationship between certain foods and your cluster headaches then its worth looking at but please only make changes to your diet under the supervision of someone qualified like a nutritionist, an acupuncturist (who understands about food energetics), a dietician or a medically qualified person and under no circumstances make changes to your medication without speaking to your G.P. first.
Sinus headaches are usually caused by an infection courtesy of the cold or flu virus....and do tend to clear on their own within 2 to 3 weeks. However, having a chat with your pharmacist is a good idea as they might be able to suggest something to ease the inflammation in the sinuses. Its a good idea to try and rest, plus drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol). If you feel up to it having a steamy shower or inhale the steam from a hot bowl of water can help but don't have the water too hot - you don't want to burn yourself. Don't do these with children!
I will say if your symptoms are severe, they don't improve, nothing helps, or if they keep reoccuring then see your G.P.
So this is the bit where it gets serious.....
Yes headaches are awful, believe me I know but 99% of the time they are nothing to worry about. However, some headaches are a big red flag to tell you there is something majorly wrong so please read on.
So the first main worry is the 'brain tumour' Everyone worries about this one....I have lost count how many clients have presented to my clinic with headaches or neck pain and they scared stiff that's what is wrong with them. Again, this is not for self diagnosis because Dr Google is there for that but if you start getting headaches or your existing headaches suddenly get worse or more frequent and nothing eases them. Then you should be seeing your G.P. in the first instance, your G.P. will want to know if you are getting other symptoms such as nausea / vomitting, dizziness, double vision, hearing changes, unexplained tiredness, personality changes, strange sensations in your hands or feet, even strange tastes or smells and that includes loss of smell or taste, your G.P. will want to know. Don't forget the vast majority of brain tumours are benign anyway and people tend to live with them and use medication to control their symptoms. But you do need to see your G.P. in the first instance.
The next one is Meningitis...okay now this one is scary and yes we all need to be aware of it because it can come on fast and affect adults and children. So if you or a child has a headache, a blotchy rash that doesn't fade under a glass (tumbler test), a high temperature, drowsiness, stiff neck, avoiding bright light, feeling nausea or vomitting then contact your emergency services asap. A point to note the tumbler test isn't always an indicator of meningits its actually for septicaemia (blood poisoning), so please don't use this to determine if it is meningitis because you can have it without the rash. If you or a child has these symptoms then please get in touch with your medical services for advice and don't delay. The NHS website is a really good guide of what to look out for. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/meningitis/symptoms/
So now we move onto Stroke, yes you can get a headache prior to a stroke occuring and people will often describe a stroke headache as the "worst of my life" or say that appeared like a "thunderclap" without warning. The pain generally won't be throbbing or develop gradually like a migraine. Rather, it will hit hard and fast. Other symptoms such as weakness on one side of the body, numbness on one side of the body, vertigo or loss of balance, slurred speech, inability to write or manage fine hand movements, difficulty comprehending others, double vision or blurred vision.
The NHS ran a campaign in the UK so people can recognise Stroke symptoms and its called F.A.S.T and this is what it stands for;
F - FACE Has it fallen on one side
A - ARMS Can a person raise their arms
S - SPEECH Is it slurred
T - TIME If you notice any of these symptoms call your emergency services
People can experience a type of stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a "mini-stroke because the obstruction of blood flow is only temporary. Symptoms of a TIA are less severe but often take a long time to recover certain muscle movements, like making a tight fist or keeping steady one's feet. You may experience a migraine type of headache with a TIA and although it's not as dangerous as a stroke, a TIA can be an early warning sign of a full stroke, so seek medical help irrespective how severe the symptoms may be.
There are a few other serious medical problems that can cause a headache such as aneurysm, temporal arteritis, toxic chemical exposure, even a bump to the head. But the long and short of it all is headaches need to be checked out by a medical practitioner, especially in the case of a child. Please don't attempt to diagnose yourself with the assistance of Dr Google, leave the diagnosis to the professionals that's what they are trained for but make sure you tell them all your symptoms and be specific because it really helps them diagnose you much quicker.
If you need help with your headaches, then give me a call or contact me via my form and I will call you back. I have dealt with stress and tension headaches, migraines, sinus and cluster headaches using a variety of options such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, chinese cupping, acupressure massage and diet. So don't suffer any longer, get in touch with me.