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Headaches are associated with an uncomfortable sensation in any part of the head.
Sensations may be heavy, sharp or throbbing and the discomfort can range from mild to extreme pain. It’s possible for other symptoms to occur at the same time as a headache, such as nausea or vomiting.
Primary headaches are when the headache itself is the main concern, and are not a symptom of another health condition. The pain is caused by inflammation in and around the head and neck, often relating to dysfunction in the nerves, muscles or blood vessels. Primary headaches are usually not dangerous, but can range from uncomfortable to disabling.
Secondary headaches occur when other health conditions trigger pain in or around the head or neck area. These headaches often begin suddenly and are excruciatingly painful. They’re more rare than primary headaches and are a warning sign that a serious underlying condition needs attention, e.g. aneurysm, brain tumour, neck injury, brain injury, meningitis.
The 4 main headache types are:
Extremely common and usually only occur on one side of the head. They can last from 1 to 3 days and result in throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, and light and/or sound sensitivity. Classic Migraines are preceded by a warning sign called an aura. Common Migraines do not have an aura.
The second most common type of headache, after a migraine. They usually cause a tight band of pressure around the temples, forehead and/or back of the head. They can persist for hours through to days, and may occur at the same time as a migraine headache. Physical therapy and relaxation techniques often lessen the discomfort of tension headaches.
An immensely painful, one-sided headache that manifests with a stuffy nose in one nostril, watery eyes, an enlarged pupil, and/or a droopy eyelid. They usually last between 20 minutes and 2 hours. Cluster headaches can occur multiple times a day for a few weeks, and then subside for months.
A rare headache type that only occurs at night, usually at the same time each evening. It affects both sides of the head and exclusively manifests in people between 40 and 80 years old. Hypnic headaches usually last for 15 to 60 minutes.
Understanding what causes headaches can be complicated, especially as the International Headache Society (IHS) has identified more than 200 headache types.
Many people incorrectly think that headaches are caused by the brain and skull. Science has shown this is unlikely as these regions don’t contain nerve endings for pain receptors. However, areas that can respond to pain, and potentially contribute to headaches, include the teeth, sinuses, and blood vessels, tissues, muscles and major nerves in the head and neck.
Finding a headache remedy that works for you, when there are so many headache types and causes, can be difficult. Fortunately, proper investigations can help you connect with the right headache treatment.
The Australian and New Zealand Headache Society works with the IHS to improve the lives of headache sufferers. They’re both committed to researching what causes headaches, so that you can find the headache treatment that improves your quality of life.
Serena Williams, tennis champion, suffered from migraine headaches for years. After a migraine stopped her from competing in a tournament final, Serena decided to investigate her pain. Tests revealed that her migraines were connected to her menstrual cycle. This knowledge allowed Serena to seek treatment for menstrual migraine headaches and continue on the tennis circuit.
Actor Daniel Radcliffe has personal experience with cluster headaches. Investigations led him to a solution in the form of blood pressure medication, even though he’s only 25 years old. Since taking pills, Daniel rarely has an attack and is able to continue with his normal routines.
Every headache type has its own signs, symptoms and frequency of onset. Typical experiences include:
More intense headaches can be associated with severe pain, nausea, vomiting, light/sound sensitivity, slurred speech, loss of balance and mental confusion.
Each headache type has its own headache treatment protocols, which may include:
What causes a headache for one person, won’t necessarily cause a headache in another. Triggers are highly individualised, with the most common contributing factors being:
Here are some natural, drug-free headache remedies:
Hydration is key to a healthy brain that’s less prone to headaches. This is because a hydrated brain is plump and less at risk of touching nerve endings in the surrounding areas. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fresh water, coconut water, herbal teas, and by eating fresh fruit daily.
Physical Therapy can be immensely useful for headaches. Chiropractors can help with neck and spine misalignments. Osteopaths help to optimise blood flow and reduce irritation of nerves in the head and neck (ideal if the ‘crack’ of chiropractic treatment doesn’t suit you). Myotherapists assist headaches that start with tightness in the shoulders and base of the skull, and then radiate into the forehead, eye or temples. Massage Therapists can decrease muscle tension, improve blood flow and reduce stress levels.
Acupuncture has been studied for its effectiveness as a headache treatment. Results show it can help reduce pain, and decrease headache frequency and severity.
Avoid food sensitivities that trigger your headaches. Using a food diary for 2 weeks can help you track patterns between your food choices and headaches. If you have trouble identifying your triggers it’s best to connect with a Naturopath for help. They can also investigate whether poor gut health is contributing to your headaches.
Supplements are a popular headache remedy as they can help with pain management and nerve health. Popular supplements for headaches and migraines include Vitamin B-Complex, Magnesium, Butterbur, Feverfew and White Willow Bark.
Self Care isn’t a luxurious headache treatment. It’s an essential part of living a healthy life that helps you de-stress and connect with things that make you smile. Regular self-care can help decrease headache frequency, improve sleep, lift mood, and contribute to a higher quality of life.
The following health experts can help treat headaches:
Here’s how to help someone with headaches:
What are 5 causes of headaches?
Which foods can trigger headaches?
How do I know if my headache is serious?
Your headache is serious if it begins suddenly or brings excruciating pain that’s almost intolerable. You may also experience vomiting, slurred speech, vision changes, loss of balance or confusion. These types of headaches are dangerous. You need to seek medical assistance for this as soon as possible.