“I have a headache!” How many times have you heard those words or uttered them yourself? Headaches are among the most common reasons why people find themselves seeking relief from pain. You may be surprised to learn that some headaches affect not just the skull, but also the face and neck. Headaches range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful and debilitating. The most incapacitating type of headache is called a migraine headache, which is characterized by intense pain as well as other troublesome symptoms.
If a headache is so intense that it is interrupting your ability to function normally, or if headaches have increased in frequency or severity, it’s time to seek professional help. A specialist can help identify the causes of your headaches and prescribe a treatment regimen that will provide effective relief from your pain.
What Happens in the Body that Results in a Headache?
The bones of the skull and tissues in the brain are not, technically, the source of headache pain, because they do not have nerves sensitive to pain. The skull and brain are surrounded by protective tissues, muscles, and blood vessels – all of which do have an extensive network of nerves. A headache occurs when these nerves surrounding the brain and skull are activated (for example, by any of previously mentioned headache causes.) The pain radiates from the nerves surrounding the brain and the skull.
Types of Headaches
Just as there are various causes of headaches, there are various types of headaches.
- Tension Headaches. Also known as a “stress headache” a tension headache is the most common type of headache. Tension headaches can be caused by a tightening of the shoulder, neck, scalp, or jaw muscles; poor posture; stress; and lack of sufficient sleep. If your headache pain feels like a band squeezing and constricting your head, this is probably a tension headache. Tension headaches are most common in adults and older teens.
- Sinus Headaches. True sinus headaches are actually rare. They’re often caused by a sinus infection characterized by thick, discolored nasal discharge; diminished ability to smell; facial pain or pressure; and fever. If your headache pain is concentrated behind the brow bone and/or cheekbones, this is probably a sinus headache. What is actually a migraine headache is often misdiagnosed (often by patients themselves) as sinus headaches.
- Cluster Headaches. Cluster headaches are among the most painful headaches (many patients describe the pain as feeling like a drilling sensation.). While they usually don’t last very long, they often recur daily over a period of weeks or months. If your headache pain is sharp and isolated in and around one eye, this is probably a cluster headache.
- Migraine Headaches. This is the most serious type of headache and surprisingly common – it is the third most prevalent illness in the world. If your headache pain is severe and accompanied by nausea and disruptions in your vision (this is called an aura), this is probably a migraine headache. Migraines are most common in people between the ages of 25 and 55.