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A headache is one of the most common presenting complaints at a Doctor’s clinic and a symptom that is most often ignored as well. Headaches have become a regular part of the day, say experts, and it’s sadly an increasing trend. Over 15 percent of adults suffer from headaches or migraines in the US. That is approximately 1 in 7 Americans. It is more prevalent in women in their reproductive years. Recent statistics also seem to be leaning against the younger age group as compared to those above 65 years of age. Headaches can really tamper with your day and become your worst enemy. The occasional throb is usually of no concern, but chronic sufferers can have a hard time adjusting. Finding out the cause and type of headache can certainly help alleviate the condition.

How do you know which type of headache you have?

The medical definition of a headache is ‘pain affecting any region of the head or neck’. Headaches aren’t as simple as they seem. Different types comprise of different characteristics and must be managed according to duration, intensity and cause. Here are the various types of headaches:

  • Tension-type headache is the most common type which is popular among young adults and teenagers.  It may present as a dull and aching pain all over your head. It comes and goes and is usually triggered by stress. Treatment with over the counter painkillers such as aspirin and ibuprofen often relieves the pain.
  • Cluster headache is often described as a burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye or one side of the face. It may be associated with nasal congestion, drooping of the eyelid and teary eye, all affecting the same side of the head. They are called ‘cluster’ headaches because they occur in groups, sometimes 3 or 4 times a day and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Not sure about the exact cause, they can be treated with sumatriptan, oxygen therapy and lidocaine (local anesthetic). Steroids, melatonin and calcium channel blockers may be affective in putting the condition into remission.
  • Migraines are typically throbbing or pulsating in nature. Lasting for days on end they can affect daily routine life. The pain is usually unilateral (affecting one side of the head). Common associative symptoms are nausea and vomiting. Bright light and noise may act as triggers or worsen the migraine. Migraines are often misdiagnosed as sinus headaches (unknowingly referred to as sinus migraine). Migraines are mostly treated with medicines belonging to the ‘triptan’ family. They can be used in the form of pills, nasal sprays or injections.
  • Sinus headache or sinus pressure headache occurs secondary to a sinus infection or allergy. Sinus headache symptoms are usually limited to the sinus areas in front of the face characterized by congestion, dull or stuffy pain and feeling of heaviness. Sinus headache relief can be achieved by using over the counter antihistamines, nasal decongestants and painkillers.
  • Exertion headache, as the name indicates is caused after periods of intense physical activity. Common triggers for exertion headaches include running, swimming, weight lifting and sexual intercourse. Basically, any activity that increases the blood flow to the head may result in a throbbing headache. The pain typically affects the whole head and thankfully resolves after some rest and over the counter painkillers.
  • Ice pick headache can be one of the worst types of headaches you encounter. The name itself is kind of self-explanatory. Ice pick headaches are typically excruciatingly painful and come without warning. They are characteristically pin point in nature and can occur anywhere in the head. Even though they only last for a couple of seconds, they can recur as abruptly as they end. Due to such a short duration, they can be challenging to treat. However, ice pick headaches have shown association with migraines and cluster headaches so treating those disorders can decrease the incidence of ice pick headaches as well.
  • Cough headache is not as uncommon as you think. It is a strange type of headache linked to coughing or any other activity that involves some sort of straining such as sneezing, blowing your nose, a fit of laughter, crying, or even after having a difficult bowel movement.
  • Primary cough headaches are usually piercing or stabbing in nature and affect the back of the head. The pain can last for a few hours and is treated with medication such as propranolol (relaxes the blood vessels), diuretics and anti-inflammatories.
  • Secondary cough headaches may result from a defect in the brain matter or skull, a brain aneurysm, tumor or leak of the spinal fluid. Surgery is often required for a permanent fix.
  • Cervicogenic headache begins in the cervical spine i.e. the neck or base of the skull. Other than stress-induced situations such as eyestrain, tension, fatigue or trauma, the cause of a cervicogenic headache can be traced back to a problem in the nerves, muscle or bone of that region. It is termed a ‘head’-ache because the pain tends to travel to the head and may even mimic a migraine. Depending on the cause, it can be managed by simple painkillers, physical therapy or surgery if needed.

When do you get help?

Headaches may seem like a regular, every day problem but they can genuinely ‘mess with your head’ (in every sense of the phrase). If you can relate to any of the symptoms mentioned above, the sooner you contact your physician the better. Just remember, persistent, lingering and intensifying symptoms are never a good sign.

You can contact and access a licensed physician online with MyLiveDoctors, one of the best medical apps for patients. It’s a great doctor availability app that helps you connect with online doctors instantly! Book your doctor appointment online without having to wait long hours and engage in an online medical consultation. You don’t have to visit the ER for that occasional headache. Get help from the comfort of your own home by consulting a physician online and seek expert medical advice. The best part is that the online app for doctor is absolutely FREE! Never take your health for granted, no matter how small the symptom is!