Are you a chronic headache sufferer? Or know someone who is always popping pain killers for their headaches? Listen up! There are several different types of headaches and they all mean different things. It can be hard to know why you have one, what to do about it and when to worry. Let’s see if we can take some of the guesswork out of it for you. If you’ve hit up a search engine to find the answer to your question, you will find lists with all sorts of numbers. The International Classification of Headache Disorders has more than 150 of them. Let’s not bog you down with every one of them, but we may have some answers for you. To get to the bottom of the mystery, you need to think about where the pain is, what type of pain it is, and when you usually get it. All three factors matter when figuring out the headache mystery. Broadly speaking, there are three categories of headache:
- Primary headaches
- Secondary headaches
- Cranial neuralgias, facial pain and other headaches
Okay now: Let’s talk primary headaches
- The Migraine Headache. The migraine headache is intense, throbbing and almost always hemispheric (occurring only on one side of the head). Common symptoms involve hypersensitivity to light, noise or smell, nausea or vomiting, vision problems (like the ‘migraine halo’ or aura that can occur before or during the migraine.) Pain tends to radiate towards the eyes, forehead and temple.
- The Tension Headache. This is a very common type of headache and most people will experience one on the odd occasion. They are dull, felt on both sides of the head and will vary in severity and length. You can usually get on with your day if you have a tension headache. Symptoms, apart from the head pain itself, may (but doesn’t always) include tenderness in the face, head, neck or shoulders, a sense of pressure behind your eyes, and sensitivity to light or sound. The triggers for a tension headache can be many and varied. They include lack of exercise, poor sleep, dehydration, eye-strain, skipped meals and bad posture. So some lifestyle changes can make a big difference here. How to manage: Have yourself a big glass of water, and lie down on your posture pole, this is the best thing to relieve the strain on your body and muscles that are the cause of your headaches in this case. When to seek help: These headaches normally last from half an hour to several hours. If its gone on for days, and you aren’t getting relief, then you may need to chat to your healthcare provider. A typical sign of these headaches is they go away or ease when you lie down.
- The Cluster Headache. If a tension headache is a pain in the bum, and a migraine headache is a bitch, a cluster headache is an absolute psycho (plus a whole lot of other swear words). They usually hit without warning, last between 15 minutes and 3 hours, and come with intense burning, piercing pain (usually behind or around one eye). Why are they called cluster headaches? Because people can experience clusters of attacks lasting from weeks to months and typically it’s a pattern – (i.e. they hit at the same time of day). They’re nicknamed the alarm clock headache. How to manage: Whatever works in the moment! Deep breathing exercises are thought to help, as is magnesium. Pain relief can be a bit of a mystery, as researchers are still trying to understand them. Don’t use alcohol during a cluster headache. Note: some people have found that the only thing that helps them is Oxygen Therapy, in extreme cases a hyperbaric chamber may be your best bet. Speak to your healthcare practitioner about this.
Common secondary headaches
- Vascular (or hypertensive) headaches. This type of a headache is usually caused by high blood pressure, and it’s dangerous. It will usually occur usually on the top (vertex) of your head, usually towards the top of your head in a pulsating pattern. It usually gets worse with activity, and can also be made worse when lying down (all that blood pools in your head).
- Exertion headaches. These headaches happen quickly after periods of intense physical activity. If you’ve gone for a run, lifted some weights, or had a little sexy time, you might get one of these. They won’t last too long, usually resolving within a few minutes (which can seriously ruin the buzz of the endorphins – from your exercise session, of course). If you get these regularly, chat to your health-care provider to make sure there’s not some underlying condition causing it.
- The Sympathetic Dominance Headache: This one is one you’ll probably only hear about here for a while, but its one I see a lot. Does your headache get worse toward the end of the day, start at the back of the neck and radiate over the top of your skull towards your forehead? Is it more common during periods of high stress? Are you sensitive to light, and noise? Do your shoulders feel like concrete? Then we might need to talk about some lifestyle changes and supplements that can help calm your nervous system. How to manage: Pop in some earplugs, and get some red-lens glasses. Have a glass of water and lie down on your posture pole (don’t drink the water at the same time though!).
- The ones that get worse when you bend forward: This is usually a sinus headache, which causes pain in the front of the face, in the sinus passages, behind the cheeks, nose and eyes. When you bend over, the pain tends to spike. You might get this type of headache if you have a cold or flu. These are the ones that come on with hayfever season and may be accompanied with teeth or jaw pain.
- Other secondary headaches: Some secondary headaches are hormonal (affecting women in menopause, or at certain times in their monthly cycle for example). These are things you’ll have to work through with your healthcare provider. Some are traumatic (concussions or head injuries for example). Don’t muck around with these. You’ll need to get checked to make sure that spine of yours is okay, and that there’s no brain trauma involved. Get to a hospital. and at the very least after a concussion (no loss of consciousness) make sure you have someone checking on you every 15 minutes for the first couple of hours and stretching to 30mins for the rest of the day. Some headaches may be allergy related, in which case you’ll need to look at that. The list here can be endless really. In the case of hay fever headaches, it’s wise to make sure its actually hay fever. Sometimes cluster headaches can be misdiagnosed as hay fever headaches as they can cause swelling or weeping eyes.
- Stay hydrated
- Eat well
- Take a magnesium supplement
- Use a posture pole at least once daily for 15 minutes to help correct posture
- Meditate and reduce your stress load
- Check in with your health provider to make sure there’s no underlying cause if you suffer from regular debilitating headaches.