Headaches are a common complaint, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost half of all adults will have experienced at least one headache in the past year. But how can you tell the difference between a normal headache and one that is dangerous? It's not easy. Read on to learn about the common causes of severe headaches and when to seek immediate medical attention. Common types of headache include tension headaches, migraines or cluster headaches, sinus headaches, and headaches that come with a cold, flu, or other viral illnesses when you also have a low fever. Of these, cluster headaches are the most serious.
They come in groups or in clusters, usually in spring or autumn. They occur one to eight times a day during a cluster period, which can last from two weeks to three months. Cluster headaches are characterized by severe pain of sudden onset, usually behind one eye. You may have severe burning or throbbing pain behind or around one eye. It can be throbbing or constant.
The pain can be so severe that most people with cluster headaches cannot sit still and often progress during an attack. On the side of pain, the eyelid falls out, the eye turns red, the pupil becomes smaller, or the eye produces tears. The nostril on that side runs or fills. A thunder headache is an extremely severe headache that appears quickly and reaches its maximum intensity in less than a minute. It can be benign, but it can also be a symptom of a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
A true sinus headache is the result of an infection of the sinuses, so the dirt that comes out of the nose will be yellow or green, unlike clear discharge in cluster headaches or migraine headaches. For most of us, an occasional headache is nothing more than a temporary increase in speed over the course of a busy day. Even so, most men can alleviate the problem with simple lifestyle measures and over-the-counter medications. Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, yoga, and acupuncture can also help. But for some of us, headaches are a big problem. Learn to recognize warning signs that require immediate medical attention.
Work with your doctor to develop a program to prevent and treat migraines and other serious headaches. And don't fall into the trap of drug overuse; for some men, rebound headaches are the biggest pain of all. If you have frequent headaches and use medicines, over-the-counter or prescription, or both, for more than 10 to 15 days a month, you may have medication overuse headaches. While hypnotic headaches are harmless, an older adult who experiences unusual headaches for the first time should see a doctor. If you have any type of headache all the time, it's important to talk to your primary care doctor so they can help you create a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist. If you have headaches more than 15 days a month over a 3-month period, you may have a chronic headache condition. Even so, you should know when a headache needs urgent care and how to control the vast majority of headaches that do not threaten your health.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have the worst headache you've ever had, you lose vision or consciousness, have uncontrollable vomiting, or if the headache lasts more than 72 hours without pain in less than 4 hours. If a doctor determines that your headache is not caused by another condition, you can discuss a treatment plan for possible thunder headaches in the future. Some types of headache can be prevented with medicines, while others can be caused by the same medicine. The only treatment for medication overuse is to stop taking the medicine that causes the headaches. However, anyone who discontinues medication should only do so under the supervision of a physician.
The doctor can help design a plan and may prescribe alternative medications to facilitate the withdrawal process. However, remember that overuse can lead to rebound headaches and a vicious cycle of drugs and headaches. Repeated attacks or certain types of headaches may indicate a more serious health condition. People with chronic migraine should talk to a doctor about preventive treatment. A health professional can diagnose chronic migraine if a person has an episode more than 15 days a month or if symptoms occur at least 8 days a month for 3 months. People who experience cluster headaches for the first time should consult a doctor as they can be a sign of something serious. Treatment will depend on several factors such as how severe the symptoms are, how often they occur and whether the person experiences nausea and vomiting.