Head pain might just be the most common ailment in the world; we have all had a headache of some kind at some point. For the most part, headaches are self limiting, do not last for more than a day or two, and are completely benign. Simple treatments at home with non-prescription pain-killers are usually sufficient to block out the pain, but it is worth to recognize certain environmental triggers and avoid them. There are also some types of headache that could indicate sever and potentially fatal medical conditions. In this article we discuss the different types of head pain, their causes, and what you should do when experiencing them.
1) Tension Headache
The tension head is by far the most common of all types of head pain. It is characterized by diffuse, low-grade pain through the top of your head, and may increase in severity over time. Tension headaches can be brought on by a variety of triggers, rarely stress, lack of sleep, persistent exposure to loud noises, lack of proper hydration, or eating certain foods. These headaches usually disappear within a few hours to two days, but if the pain is too much for you to bear, you can take acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen to find relief. Since this type of head pain is brought on by environmental triggers, it can also be preceded by avoiding these situations.
2) Migraine headache
The migraine tends to affect one side of the head and is more of a pinpoint pain than the diffuse tension headache. It may also be associated with triggers, and is commonly accompanied by sensitivity to strong light and sounds. This type of head pain can last from several hours to several days, and can be relieved with migraine medications such as Advil, Motrin, or Excedrin migraine pills.
3) Cluster headache
The cluster headache is quite excruciating, usually appearing quickly behind one eye and reaching a peak after about an hour and then vanishing. It remains focused on one side of the head and can be accompanied by raising up the eyes and a runny nose. These headaches tend to be repetitive over several days or even weeks, and can also be treated with migraine-strength non-prescription drugs.
None of these three types of head pain indicate a more severe underlining condition, and do not warrant talking to your doctor unless they are consistently repetitive or debilitating. However, these other forms of head pain require immediate medical attention:
- A headache that spreads to your neck could be a symptom of meningitis or hemorrhage
- A sudden, extremely intense headache that has an abrupt sunset with no triggers could mean a variety of things, including stroke, aneurysm, or meningitis
- A headache that comes on quickly and violently after a period of extremely intense exercise could indicate a subarachnoid hemorrhage. This is different from a tension headrought on after exercise from dehydration and over-exertion.
- A headache that lasts for days and days without stopping, especially if accompanied by a low fever or changes in your vision could indicate inflamed arteries that if left untreated could leave you blind.
- If you and everyone else inside of a closed space suffer a headache at the same time, this is probably carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heating system. Get everyone outside immediately and call the fire department.
- A headache that wakes you up at night, has been worsening for weeks, and is there when you get up in the morning might indicate a mass growing in the brain.