We’ve all experienced a headache at some time or other (they’re among the most common ailments going), but head pain can take many forms.
While most of the time, headaches are relatively minor and will go away on their own (or calm down with an over-the-counter painkiller), for some people they can be a chronic problem and a serious blight.
If this is the case, it’s important to properly identify what type of headache you’re experiencing, as this can determine the appropriate course of treatment. There may also be specific ‘triggers’ that would be useful to avoid.
Although most headaches are not a sign of anything serious, if you’re experiencing ongoing headaches, or if you also have other symptoms alongside the head pain, it’s always best to check in with your GP. If that doesn’t help and headaches are significantly impacting your quality of life, a referral to a headache specialist could help ensure you get the help and advice you need.
Here, we’ve outlined four different types of headache and how to manage them…
1. Tension-type headaches
Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache, characterised by a dull pain, tightness or pressure around your forehead. It can often feel like there is an invisible band or clamp circling your head. Most tension-type headaches last for 30 minutes to several hours, but in more severe cases they can last for several days. As well as head pain, some people also report pain and stiffness in their neck.
As the name might suggest, excessive emotional stress or pressure at work, for example, can often trigger these headaches. The NHS says that factors like poor posture, dehydration and squinting may also bring on the symptoms.
Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to help relieve pain in the short-term, but it’s important not to over-use over-the-counter medications. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice if symptoms persist for more than a few days. In the long-term, lifestyle measures – such as yoga, massage and exercise – can all help with managing symptoms and underlying stress.
2. Cluster headaches
Ever experience mega-intense bouts of headaches that cause excruciating pain around or behind one eye? It could be a cluster headache.
Cluster headaches are rare, and while anyone can potentially get them, the NHS says they’re more common in men and tend to start when a person is in their 30s or 40s.
As well as a sudden piercing pain that radiates from the eye to one side of the head, cluster headaches can also cause the eye to water or swell up, your face to sweat and your nose to run. They’re notoriously immensely painful and debilitating. It’s not exactly clear why they occur, but they’ve have been linked to activity in part of the brain called the hypothalamus.