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Woman with headaches

Headaches: What they mean

Headaches can mean anything from dehydration to a brain tumour. A headache can be a symptom of a larger issue or even a condition on its own. Headaches, migraines and other afflictions can be complicated to diagnose, but did you know that you can differentiate between the different types of headaches?

They are all unique, depending on the cause. There are over 150 types of headaches. Every headache can also be treated in a unique way. 

The most commonly experienced headaches are migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches, in their variants. 

What is a headache?

A headache is categorised by an emerging pain in the face, head and sometimes even moving down to the neck. The pain can range from a sharp, piercing feeling to a dull, persistent ache.

There are a number of different classification systems for headaches. The International Headache Society explains that headaches may include dehydration, fatigue, sleep deprivation and stress.  Causes may include the effects of medications, the effects of recreational drugs, viral infections, loud noises, common colds, head injury, rapid ingestion of a very cold food or beverage, and dental or sinus issues. 

A headache is one of the most commonly experienced of all physical discomforts, says Wikipedia. All types of headaches are treated with some form of pain medication. Many headache medications can be purchased over the counter. Paracetamol is the most common headache medication for mild pain.

Sinus Headaches 

Sinus headaches are caused by congestion of the nasal passages. The pain is usually felt behind the eyes and nose.

Sinusitis is an infection of the air cavities in the cranial bones, called the paranasal sinuses.

The four paired sinuses or air cavities are Ethmoid sinus cavities, which are located between the eyes, Frontal sinus cavities in the forehead region, the Maxillary sinus cavities on either side of the

nose and the Sphenoid sinuses that are located behind the eyes, Affinity Health explains in a blog titled, ‘The best ways to relieve sinusitis’. These four facilitate voice resonance, filter moisture in the air and lighten the skull. So when they are filled with thick, infected mucous, it can cause pain in the face and head, which will make breathing and even moving around very difficult.

People with sinusitis suffer from painful, sensitive spots on the face, usually in the cavities between the nose and cheekbones. 

How do you treat it?

Most doctors will prescribe antibiotics. These can be either in the form of tablets, syrup or medicated nasal spray to treat the infection.

You will also most likely receive medications to treat the symptoms. 

In rare cases of acute sinusitis, the pain can be debilitating and may need a stronger analgesic, which will require a script. 

Nasal sprays, like naphazoline (Privine), oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan, Nostrilla, Vicks Sinus Nasal Spray), or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, Sinex, Rhinall) are also used. 

They also come as pills, such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, and others) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) all help to reduce the swelling in your nasal passages. They take some of the swelling away, which will help with stuffiness and aids breathing, while also assisting with the facial tenderness. 

Many patients find relief from the occasional saline rinsing of the nostrils, by using what is known as a ‘neti pot’.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are caused by stress, when the neck and scalp muscles become tense, or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety, explains Medline Plus. These headaches are mainly experienced by teenagers and adults. 

They are also triggered by smoking, alcohol and eye strain from excessive screen time. 

Tension headaches are characterised as a dull ache that usually starts at the back of the head and slowly moves to the front. Many people complain of light sensitivity due to the pain moving to the area behind the eyes, very similar to sinus headaches.

A common complaint from people who suffer from tension headaches is the feeling that your head is in a vice grip that is slowly tightening. A painful jaw and tight facial muscles are also quite common symptoms.

Tension headaches are split between episodic tension headaches, which happen less than 15 days a month, and chronic tension headaches, which happen more than 15 days a month.

How Are They Treated?

Because these headaches are caused by stress, the best thing to do is solve the underlying issues that are causing the stress. 

These headaches are usually psychosomatic, so therapy and mental health treatments could very well solve the problem. 

Also, rest and avoiding screen time will also help take the edge off. 

Most people are also prescribed medication to help the pain. Sometimes, tension headaches can cause insomnia, so doctors will prescribe sleep-inducing medication to help patients rest. 

Some drugs can keep you from getting a tension headache, like antidepressants, blood pressure meds, and anti-seizure drugs, says WebMD. You take them every day even if you aren’t in pain, so that you end up using less medication over time.

Migraines

If you’ve ever watched daytime soaps, you have definitely heard someone complain of suffering a migraine. They are usually sent to bed, with everyone gravely concerned for their health! But what is a migraine, exactly? Is it more dangerous than a ‘regular’ headache?

Migraines are usually a severe pain behind the eyes, or at the temples. Migraine pain is usually differentiated by a pulsating or throbbing pain and is often closely associated with nausea or dizziness. Some sufferers feel weak and may be debilitated during migraine ‘attacks’.

Migraines have many triggers, including stress and anxiety, side effects caused by medication, alcohol and tobacco, as well as hormonal changes. 

Migraine sufferers also note that overexertion and insomnia can lead to migraines. 

Researchers also believe that migraines have a genetic cause. Certain foods are also known triggers, especially paired with other causes. 

There is no cure for migraine headaches, but there are several treatments that relieve symptoms and prevent additional attacks.

Think you might have a Sleep Disorder? Check out this article.