Getting a handle on your headaches

Inside your head sits one of your most important body parts. Your head is also a centre of potentially debilitating pain. What kind of headache are you dealing with? What is the best way to treat it? Use this chart to get a handle on your headaches.

Acute headache symptoms – the most common type of headache, acute headaches cause pain in the head that is usually short-lived and mild in intensity. Causes of acute headaches are wide-ranging. A few include illness, infection, and skipping meals.

Many acute headaches can be taken care of with over-the-counter pain medication, eating, drinking water or waiting it out. Recognize triggers that cause you to suffer an acute headache and avoid them.

Cluster headache symptoms – a group of extremely painful headaches that occur multiple times in a single day on a regular basis over a period of weeks or months without warning, cluster headaches typically affect only one side of the head behind the eye or near the eye. They usually last 30 to 45 minutes at a time, though the pain can stick around for a few hours and cause the sufferer to not be able to sit still. It is unclear what causes cluster headaches, but most people who suffer from cluster headaches regularly smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

Treating cluster headaches requires prescription pain medication.

Since it is unclear what causes cluster headaches, it is impossible to create a foolproof prevention plan. However, not smoking or drinking alcohol excessively will reduce your chance of a cluster headache.

Migraine headache symptoms – occasionally moderate, often severe, migraine pain can last a few hours or a few days. In some instances, the sufferer also experiences abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to light, noise, or odours. They can come a few times a month or only one or two times a year.

It’s unclear exactly what causes migraines. What is known is that they have to do with changes in the brain, inherited brain abnormalities and the contraction of blood vessels in the brain.

Typical treatment for migraines includes a strong prescription medication and lifestyle changes to reduce your likelihood of future migraines. Though you cannot always keep migraines at bay, you can reduce your likelihood of a migraine by reducing the stresses in your life, getting an appropriate amount of sleep (not too much or too little), avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and not missing meals.

Sinus headache symptoms – causing a deep, constant pain in the cheekbones, bridge of the nose, or forehead, sinus headaches usually grow worse when you move your head quickly and are usually experienced with other symptoms of a sinus infection, such as facial swelling, nasal discharge, fever and feelings that your ears are full of fluid.

One of the sinus cavities (located in the cheekbones, bridge of the nose, and forehead) becomes infected, causing inflammation that prevents mucous from flowing past the sinuses.

In order to overcome a sinus headache, you will need to beat your sinus infection using antibiotics. You may also find symptomatic relief by using over-the-counter antihistamines and pain medication.

Avoiding sinus headaches requires you to avoid sinus infections. To do that, wash your hands regularly, stay away from people with cold symptoms, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, and don’t smoke.

Tension headache symptoms – the muscles located between your head and neck seem to contract for hours or even days at a time causing a continuous, pulling pain that is focused in the temples, forehead or back of the head or neck.

Stress, fatigue, psychological problems, arthritis, bad posture, abnormalities in the neck muscles, bones, or discs, grief or depression can all bring on tension headaches.

Beat tension headaches by taking medications to reduce inflammation and pain or relax the neck muscles. You should also work with your physician to determine the underlying cause of the headache and receive appropriate care for that condition.

Regular use of pain or other medication can help prevent tension headaches, as can stress reduction techniques and improved posture.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.

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