It’s a terrible headache to get a headache. Almost all of us experience them at some point, and it can be really annoying and uncomfortable.
While all headaches happen as a painful sensation in the head or face, there are over 100 different kinds of headaches with differing symptoms and severity. Some can be treated simply with over the counter medications or home remedies, while some may need you to take a trip to the doctor’s office.
Here are the 3 most common types of headache and when to see a doctor for them:
Migraine headaches affect mostly women, making up 75% of migraine sufferers according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Migraines manifest as intense, throbbing pain and may be accompanied by light sensitivity, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting. Migraines can persist for days and can be passed down within families, indicating genetic causes. Migraine headaches are also linked to brain chemical imbalances.
Migraine headaches are treated depending on their severity and frequency. Your physician may prescribe medication for acute onset migraines for immediate relief, and/or preventive drugs to curb the occurrence of future migraines.
This is the most common type of headache caused by various factors such as genetics, environment, as well as stress and muscle tension. Tension headaches manifest as moderate pain on or around both sides of the head, and/or pain in the back of the head and neck. They can be chronic, happening often or even every day. The pain usually builds up slowly and are not associated with nausea or vomiting.
Occasional tension headaches may be treated with OTC pain relievers, while chronic conditions may require prescription meds such as muscle relaxants and tricyclic antidepressants, partnered with regular exercise, good sleep habits, and relaxation techniques such as yoga or massage.
This type of headache manifests as sudden onset severe pain, generally behind the eye. This is considered as the most severe type of headache but occurs less commonly than migraines and tension headaches. Experts say cluster headaches may be caused by tobacco or alcohol use, heat, bright lights, and consuming foods that contain nitrates, such as bacon, or luncheon meat. Cluster headaches occur in groups and can happen sometimes daily, or multiple times a day. They may last from one to three hours and the pain restarts, in the same way, each time.
There is no known cure for cluster headaches, but doctors may recommend a few ways to alleviate the pain. These include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, and prescription medications such as Verapamil, to relax the blood vessels, or Prednisone, a steroidal drug to reduce swelling and inflammation.
When to see a doctor
If you experience headaches on a regular basis with increasing severity or frequency or are disrupting your regular daily activities, go see a doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if you feel you’re having the worst headache you’ve ever had, experience loss of vision or consciousness, have excessive vomiting, or if your headache persists for more than 72 hours with less than 4 hours pain-free.
Head over to this article by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for more information on the different types of headache and when to see a doctor for them.