5 Types of Headaches: What You Need to Know

Migraines are usually one-sided and the pain is described as throbbing or pulsating. It worsens with physical activity and can last from several hours to 3 days. Pain associated with sinus headaches is usually located around or behind the eyes, across the cheeks and bridge of the nose, along the forehead or along the upper teeth. It is often described as a feeling similar to pressure and is constant.

Leaning forward or on your stomach, doing sudden activity, or exercising can make pain worse. Tension headaches are a feeling of pressure or tension, often described as “vice” in quality. The pain is usually mild to moderate, but can become severe. Cluster headache is another very different type of headache.

Pain is always one-sided during cluster attack, but the affected side can vary from headache to headache. This type of headache has characteristics of both migraine headache and headache. Cluster headaches can be triggered by alcohol or by sinus infections. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and you may experience a dull, oppressive pain on both sides of your head, almost as if your head is in a vise.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil, or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) usually work well for tension headaches and accompanying neck stiffness. If tension headaches persist, your healthcare provider may recommend a prescription pain reliever such as Naprosyn (naproxen), which is stronger than Aleve. Sometimes, for chronic tension headaches, doctors will recommend an antidepressant (usually a tricyclic antidepressant such as Elavil (amitriptyline) to prevent tension headaches. Sinus headaches are triggered by a sinus infection or inflammation of the sinuses or allergies.

They can also accompany a sinus infection, also known as sinusitis. You may be surprised to learn that a migraine can be mistaken for a sinus headache. Sinus headaches can be treated with decongestants to reduce nasal congestion, but be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist first, as they may interact with other medications you are taking. You can also apply a warm compress to painful areas of the face or use a saline nasal spray for sinus headaches. Migraine is often diagnosed and poorly treated.

Migraine headaches are not the same for everyone, and symptoms may vary from person to person. Characterized by a pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of the head, migraines may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. The American Migraine Foundation says that between 25 and 30% of people experience a migraine aura, where they see sparks or bright spots or experience tingling on one side of their body. The Migraine Research Foundation estimates that migraines affect 39 million men, women and children in the United States and 1 billion worldwide. Despite the high prevalence of migraine, many people with migraine are not treated.

A recent study found that 1 in 5 people didn't know they could get preventive relief from migraine. Others didn't know that migraines can often be triggered by factors such as hormones (especially during menstrual cycles and menopause), an irregular sleep schedule, dehydration, certain foods, alcohol, and caffeine. If you suspect that you have migraine, your doctor will take your medical history and perform a physical and possibly neurological examination. They will ask you how often you have symptoms, if you have a family history of migraines, and they will ask you about your “headache burden” or how many days a month you experience migraines and the impact they have on your life (if you are forced to miss work and other events).If over-the-counter treatments haven't worked and you experience severe pain from your headaches, there are acute and preventive prescription medications that can improve your quality of life. Acute prescription medicines used to treat migraine include triptans such as Imitrex (sumatriptan) or Maxalt (rizatriptan), and newer medicines such as Ubrelvy (ubrogepant) or Reyvow (lasmiditan).

Preventive medicines include pills taken by mouth such as Nurtec ODT (rimegepant) or Topamax (topiramate), or a monthly injection of a calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor (CGRP) inhibitor such as Aimovig (erenumab). Botox (botulinum toxin) injected into the face every three months has also proven effective in some patients who experience frequent migraine attacks. If you have tried a migraine medicine in the past without success, talk to your doctor about some of the newer treatment options that have become available in recent years. Many of the older medicines used to prevent migraines were initially approved to treat other medical conditions such as depression or hypertension. These newer medicines were developed specifically to treat migraines. While most people turn to medication at the first sign of a headache, this approach can also cause rebound headaches also known as medication overuse headaches.

If you use headache medicine more than two or three times a week, you could trigger medication overuse headaches when the medicine goes away. Secondary headaches often start out of nowhere and are unbearable. Tension headaches are a common headache often provoked with pain varying from person to person but usually felt throughout the body as a dull, aching sensation. Tenderness or pain may also occur around the muscles of the neck, forehead, or shoulders. Most tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to relieve symptoms while sinus headaches occur when the sinus cavity becomes inflamed due to allergies, illnesses, or dry weather says the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). They are associated with deep persistent pain in the cheekbones forehead or bridge of the nose. Pain often increases with sudden head movements and occurs with other sinus symptoms such as runny nose fever and facial swelling.

Sinus headaches are treated by reducing the accumulation of mucus that causes sinus pressure over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines and prescription steroid.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

Award-winning food advocate. Subtly charming bacon practitioner. Alcohol enthusiast. Proud travel aficionado. Incurable twitter scholar.

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