Understand The Different Types of Headaches

Any throbbing or distracting pain in the head is classified as a headache.

Did you know there were more than 10 distinct types of headaches, though?

We’ll be exploring an A to Z of headaches today so you can determine whether you need to pop a paracetamol or make an urgent appointment with a pain specialist.

In the words of the World Health Organization, “nearly everyone” has occasional headaches, so you are certainly not alone if you find yourself with a thick head.

Primary Headaches

A primary headache is defined as the headache itself being the problem rather than the headache being triggered by another problem like allergies or sickness.

If this type of primary headache occurs once in a while, it’s termed an episodic headache. These last from 30 minutes to a few hours.

When you experience regular headaches on most of the days of the week, or ongoing headaches lasting for days, you’ll need to speak with your healthcare provider. Instead of suffering alone, you can formulate a treatment plan to manage the pain of these chronic headaches.

These are the main primary headaches by type:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension headaches

Cluster headaches

If you are struck down with a burning pain in your head behind one of your eyes or down one side of your face, this is a cluster headache.

With this kind of headache, you often notice a redness and flushing in the affected area. There could also be some swelling.

On the same side of the head, you’re likely to experience some nasal congestion as well as a little tearing of the eyes.

Cluster headaches occur in a series. The individual headaches last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. Expect one to four headaches a day, normally cropping up at the same time. Once a headache subsides, it’s replaced by another headache in an enervating cycle.

There’s no established cause for cluster headaches. Treatment sometimes takes the form of a local anesthetic to dull the pain. Once diagnosed, you can explore corticosteroids, melatonin, or calcium channel blockers can sometimes effectively push these cluster headaches into remission.

Migraine headaches

Perhaps the most common and best-known headache is a migraine.

When you’re afflicted by a deep pulsing and throbbing in the head that lasts for days and impacts your daily living activities, you’re in the grips of a migraine.

In about 1 in 5 cases of migraine, the headache is foreshadowed by visual disturbances known as auras.

Often, it’s environmental factors like missing sleep, dehydration, exposure to chemicals, or hormonal fluctuations that trigger migraines.

When over-the-counter medication proves unsuccessful, your doctor can prescribe you triptans. These come in spray, pill, and injection form. Triptans work by decreasing inflammation and redirecting blood flow in the brain.

Tension headaches

The last type of primary headache is a tension headache.

These headaches manifest as a dull and aching feeling in the head. There’s no throbbing that characterizes other types of headache.

Stress typically triggers tension headaches. Many OTC meds can relieve this form of headache. If all else fails, your doctor can consider a variety of prescription pills.

Secondary Headaches

When a headache is a symptom of another issue, this is known as a secondary headache.

Unfortunately, when the trigger is ongoing, you can suffer from chronic secondary headaches.

Here’s a quick summary of the leading types of secondary headache:

  • Allergy and sinus headaches: Some allergic reactions trigger headaches in the front of the head and the sinus area.  Sinus headaches can also occur after a sinus infection
  • Caffeine headaches: Caffeine impacts blood flow. When you accustom your system to a certain level of caffeine, withdrawing this can trigger caffeine headaches
  • Exertion headaches: If you get a headache shortly after a period of intense physical activity, especially if you find this throbbing on both sides of your head. Luckily, this form of headache usually subsides on its own within an hour or two
  • Hormone headaches: Women are prone to headaches as a result of hormonal fluctuations. If these headaches occur in sync with menstruation, they’re classified as menstrual migraine
  • Hypertension headaches: If you have high blood pressure, you could suffer from headaches as a result.  Seek immediate medical advice if this happens
  • Post-traumatic headaches: Headaches commonly follow any type of head injury. These can last for up to a year and you can often get pain management medication prescribed
  • Rebound headaches: A rebound headache comes about after medication is abused. Take too many of certain types of OTC painkiller – aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, for example – you could experience a headache in line with a caffeine headache 

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Headache?

Whenever an episodic headache lasts for more than 2 days, you need to see a doctor.

Are you experiencing headaches more than 15 days each month for more than 3 months? If so, you likely have a chronic headache condition that needs medical attention.

You should bear in mind that headaches often act as a symptom of more serious underlying conditions. If in any doubt, make an appointment with your doctor.

Final Thoughts

Feel free to get in touch any time with your queries or feedback. If you need to contact a pain specialist, give us a call today on 480-550-9393. There’s no need to suffer from headaches in silence.