Headache Causes and How to Treat Head Pains
Headaches are life's yellow lights. They don't really stop you, they just slow everything down Ã¢â‚¬” from your productivity to your husband's wandering hands. The biggest problem, though, is that most of us think our only option is to accept the pounding pain, try to treat it, then wait it out. But you have more options for treating Ã¢â‚¬” and preventing Ã¢â‚¬” the most common skull-busters around.
Locate It Throbbing, pulsating pain (think any Duran Duran song) that's only on one side of your head. Often with nausea or light sensitivity.
Diagnose It If it's localized on one side, it's probably a migraine. That occurs when nerves in the brain stem become overexcited (from almost anything Ã¢â‚¬” skipping meals to stress). And that leads to dilation of blood vessels in the brain Ã¢â‚¬” causing the pain. About 15 percent of people with migraines get an "aura" right before. "You may see wavy or jagged lines, dots, or flashing lights," says Lisa K. Mannix, M.D., a headache expert in Ohio.
Stop It The average length of a migraine is about 24 hours. Imitrex or Maxalt are a class of prescription tryptophans that work by decreasing the constriction of blood vessels, says Merle L. Diamond, M.D., of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago.
Locate It Mild pressing or tightening pain on both sides of your head.
Diagnose It About 80 percent of adults experience tension headaches. And they're the kinds that can occur anywhere Ã¢â‚¬” the forehead, temples, the back of the head, even the upper neck. This pain occurs when your muscles contract. That tension can be caused by stress or anxiety Ã¢â‚¬” the chemical changes in your brain in turn cause the muscles to contract; or it can be in response to physical changes, like holding your head in the same position at the computer for too long.
Stop It Start with ibuprofen. But try to find the cause, like changes in sleep patterns, caffeine, or other lifestyle triggers. For example, foods containing the chemical tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish) have been shown to cause headaches. Keep a journal that matches your headaches to your behavior patterns.
Locate It Throbbing pain that feels similar to a migraine, but the pain is spaced out Ã¢â‚¬” now that you sit down and think about it Ã¢â‚¬” every 4 weeks.
Diagnose It During your menstrual cycle, your estrogen level can fall faster than Jenny McCarthy's fame. Researchers believe that hormone fluctuation causes blood vessels to dilate, triggering menstruation migraines, Dr. Diamond says. In fact up to 60 percent of migraines in women are menstrual-related.
Stop It One or two days before the onset of regular menstrual symptoms, take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen. That will help decrease the constriction of blood vessels and reduce the pain associated with menstrual headaches. For more severe cases, see a doctor for a prescription for a migraine-targeted tryptophan drug.
Locate It Pain that starts right above your nose and radiates up.
Diagnose It Seasonal allergy headaches usually come with a side order of nasal congestion, sneezing, and watering eyes. The headache occurs when the nasal passages get irritated Ã¢â‚¬” either by food or from airborne allergens like molds, pollen, and trees.
Stop It An OTC anti-histamine like Claritin should stop the headache by stopping the reaction to the allergen. But if your case is more severe, see a doctor, who may prescribe a nasal cortisone spray to help address the allergen. Don't double dose on the OTC, though. You may wind up getting a rebound headache. That can come when your body stops producing its own pain-killing mechanisms because it's been tricked into thinking the mechanisms are overloaded.
Locate It Dull ache in your head and neck that builds up during physical activity.
Diagnose It When your neck muscles contract during rigorous physical activity, tension builds up in your head, causing an exertional headache. If it lasts longer than a few minutes (such headaches can last a few hours), an anti-inflammatory should ease the pain. Also be aware that dehydration can cause headaches, too, which could be the source of pain that appears during exercise.
Stop It If you're susceptible to headaches during sex or exercise, take an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen about an hour before the activity (nice foreplay, huh?). And if the headaches happen often, see a doctor to rule out potentially dangerous neurological problems like tumors or aneurysms, Dr. Mannix says.