The word headache, clinically known as ‘cephalalgia’, is used to describe pain that is felt anywhere in the head or neck region. There are many types of different headaches and for each type of headache accompanies a variety of causes or contributing factors. To effectively manage and control your headaches, you must first understand which type of headache you are suffering from and why it is there.
Most headaches can be classified into two broad categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches occur as a direct result of injury or environment and include cluster headaches and tension headaches. Secondary headaches are triggered by another underlying medical problem such as infections or brain tumors, and are a side effect of the underlying illness.
Most headaches are of primary nature and can be easily controlled. If you are unsure of what type of headache you are experiencing and it continues, be sure to seek the advice of your local doctor.
Tension Headaches are by far the most common type of headache. Also known as a stress headache, it is brought on by an increase in either physical or emotional stress by causing a tightening of the head, neck and jaw muscles. These headaches are best treated by making lifestyle adjustments including exercise, diet, stress management and adjustment of posture. For more specific advice on how to relieve your tension headache, read our article on ‘Quick Tips For Relieving A Tension Headache’. You may also gain relief of your headache through therapies such as chiropractic, osteopathy or physiotherapy.
Headaches caused by dental problems are also quite common. If someone grinds their teeth at night or if their jaw is poorly aligned it can result in excess muscle tension in the jaw, and will need to be treated by a dentist. Tooth decay, dental abscesses and infections can also cause headaches, referring pain across the face and head, and also need to be treated by a dentist.
Headaches caused by diet and food are also relatively common. Fluctuations in blood-sugar levels can cause spasms of the blood vessels in the head, creating a change in pressure and subsequent pain in the head. Some naturally occurring chemicals in foods, such as amines, as well as food additives such as MSG are also known to cause headaches. Withdrawal from caffeine, nicotine and other addictive substances can also cause headaches. Health professionals such a doctor, a dietician or a naturopath may be able to help you to figure out what foods to avoid.
Headaches can also be caused by eye problems. Poor vision may result in excess squinting, leading to strained eye muscles. Eye diseases such as glaucoma can sometimes also cause headaches by referring pain into other structures of the head. If you think your eyes may be contributing to your headache, talk to your doctor or make an appointment to see an optometrist.
As suggested before, headaches can also come on secondary to other infections or inflammatory problems that may require treatment with anti-biotics, decongestants or anti-inflammatory medication. Medications themselves can sometimes produce headaches.
Successfully controlling your headaches often takes a multi-levelled approach and may involve one or more health professionals. To successfully diagnose and treat chronic headaches, start with a visit to your local doctor, who can assist with diagnosis and refer you to the appropriate health professionals, including physiotherapists, optometrists, dentists, neurologists and ear, nose & throat specialists.