When it comes to medical issues, headaches are often overlooked as painful but not particularly serious, especially since they are so common and can be caused by so many things. However, some headaches can signal that something more severe is going on in the body. How can you tell when to be concerned about headaches? Read on to learn more.
The Two Main Types Of Headaches
Headaches are classified into two main categories: primary headaches, and secondary headaches. Each type has a different set of causes and different kinds of treatment needed to manage them. Primary headaches are headaches caused by mixed pain signals in the brain. These headaches are not typically connected to any underlying illness, but they can still be debilitating! Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches—all of which can recur as chronic headaches.
Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are a symptom of underlying illness. These headaches have a cause other than mixed signals to the brain and include brain freeze, sinus headaches, thunderclap headaches, and spinal headaches. While some of these illnesses may be serious and potentially deadly, some are not. Regardless of headache type, always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns regarding painful or frequent headaches.
What Causes Headaches?
There are tons of factors that can trigger a headache, and these factors change from person to person. With primary headaches, the main cause is an overwhelmed brain. Forms of stress like bright lights and loud noises can cause pain signals to misfire, creating a primary headache.
Secondary headaches, however, are symptoms of another illness, so their causes are more varied. For example, hangovers or eating ice cream too fast are everyday causes of secondary headaches, but other causes include ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, and concussions. Long-term illnesses can cause headaches as well: cancer, glaucoma, panic disorder, toxoplasmosis, high blood pressure, and strokes can all cause secondary headaches.
How Can I Take Care of My Headache?
Different kinds of headaches require different treatments. Secondary headaches, for example, require consultation with your doctor to determine what treatment methods will work best. Sometimes medication will be prescribed or treating the illness that causes the headaches will help them subside, like taking antibiotics for a sinus infection.
Primary headaches, on the other hand, can sometimes be treated without a doctor’s help. Tension headaches, for example, are caused by stress. To treat them, taking over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol and Motrin can help, but so can eating some food and taking a nap. Another way to treat tension headaches involves hot and cold therapy. Heating pads placed gently on the head can help relieve tension headaches, as can a hot shower.
Cluster headaches are caused by stress and shortness of breath, so they can be treated with over-the-counter medications, and sometimes by taking deep breaths of air. Migraines, on the other hand, can be taken care of with over-the-counter painkillers, but sometimes a prescription painkiller is required to relieve them.
When Should I be Concerned?
There are a number of factors that can cause concern regarding both primary and secondary headaches. If you are experiencing any of these kinds of headaches or symptoms with them, speak to your doctor as soon as possible:
- Chronic headaches (including primary headaches) can be debilitating and are in fact a form of chronic pain.
- Changes in headache patterns, like more frequent headaches or headaches that last longer than they usually do.
- Headaches that prevent you from moving and completing tasks, including migraines. If you can’t go to work or socialize because of how much pain you are in, it’s a debilitating headache. Sometimes, these headaches are sudden, short, and intense. These are called thunderclap headaches and can be dangerous while operating machinery or out and about. If you experience any sort of thunderclap headache, speak with your doctor immediately.
- A headache that affects cognitive functions, like seeing, hearing, speaking, staying alert, or staying upright. Some other symptoms that can accompany these headaches include seizures and weakness/numbness on one side of the body.
- Your headache is accompanied by unexpected weight loss.
- Headaches caused by or accompanying bodily harm, like headaches that come after animal bites, physical overexertion, or a blow to the head. Other headaches include headaches with nosebleeds, headaches that have soft temples, and headaches that come with joint and muscle pain.
There are many more causes for secondary headaches, so regardless of the situation, speak to your primary care physician if you have any concerns. To browse pain management products that can help with headaches, visit Medical Supply Depot.