What causes a headache?

Suffering: There are different classes of headaches and ways to manage them. Terry White Chemmart Hamilton director Mark Davis suggests seeing a doctor or pharmacist for assistance.There are different types of headaches and they can have many different causes.

This week is National Pain Week and Terry White Chemmart Hamilton director Mark Davis wants to raise awareness of the types of headaches, symptoms and reasons.

“Migraines are severe headaches, often felt on only one side of the head. They can occur as often as several times a week or as rarely as once or twice a year,” he said.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, noise and smell.

“Some people get an aura (for example, flashing lights, blurred vision, tingling or numbness) up to an hour before the pain starts,” Mark said.

Tension headache is the most common, causing constant (not throbbing) pain on both sides of the head.

“The pain often feels like a heavy or tight band around your head. It may also affect your neck.”

Sinuses are small air spaces within the bones of your face. They can cause headache after becoming inflamed and blocked due to allergies, infection and mucus.

“Blocked sinuses can cause pain and make the area around your eyes, cheeks and forehead feel tender,” said Mark.

Using pain relieving medicines too often for headaches can cause a ‘medicine overuse’ headache. Treatment involves seeking advice and stopping the medication.

Triggers for headaches include:

  • stress, tension, anxiety, depression
  • allergy (e.g. hayfever)
  • hormone changes (e.g. menstruation, pregnancy)
  • stopping caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, energy drinks)
  • some foods and food additives (e.g. chocolate, citrus fruit, red wine, aged cheese, MSG)
  • eating very cold food
  • alcohol and cigarettes
  • delaying or missing meals and drinks
  • too Iittle or too much sleep
  • bright or flickering light
  • eye strain
  • strong smells or fumes
  • noise
  • weather, air pressure and altitude changes
  • some medicines (e.g. oral contraceptives, HRT, overuse of pain relievers)
  • infections and other illnesses
  • jaw and teeth problems
  • back and neck problems
  • poor posture (e.g. tense muscles)
  • head injury

Treatment for headaches and migraines include both medicines and self care strategies and a pharmacist or doctor is able to assist.

Mark advises to seek medical advice if headaches continue for more than three days, are sudden or severe, cause vision loss, affect sleep, appear medicine related or are the result of injury.

Children and adults over 50 should also seek medical advice for any headache symptom.