Last week we talked about the emergent types of headaches, but these are fairly uncommon and most of us hopefully won’t experience these in our life. The majority of headaches are uncomfortable but benign, and can be treated at home.
Types of Headaches
Lets start with types of headaches. There are tension headaches which are related to stress and muscle tension, because who isn’t stressed?! Sinus headaches, when you are sick or get allergies is when you usually get these beauties! Cluster headaches, these are much less common and usually patients say they occur at the same time, in the same location, usually behind the eye with some eye tearing.
Then there is the Queen Bee of headaches, the migraine. If you are a migraine suffer, no explanation needed. For those of us fortunate to not get these baby’s, they usually involve getting some visual change or weird smell before the headache, letting you know it is about to start, called an aura. After that, the headache starts, usually with some sound and light sensitivity, lasting a few hours, and often making you nauseous. This is the headache that stops you from going to work or playing with your kids. Once it starts you are in a dark, quiet room praying you fall asleep so it just goes away. They suck!
Most people can successfully treat headaches at home, some Tylenol or Excedrin for the headache, maybe decongestants or anti-histamines. If you are having to take over-the-counter pain medications everyday, this may actually lead to a medication overuse headache and going cold turkey on pain meds is your only cure. If you are getting headaches daily you should talk to your doctor about better management options.
A treatment that is commonly overlooked is lifestyle changes. If stress or muscle tension is the cause, some relaxation techniques, deep breathing, exercise, yoga, or meditation will do wonders for your pain. Try these 10 yoga poses when you have your next headache. Also, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and prevent eye strain by limiting computer and phone time.
Once you have exhausted all of these options, time to get to your doctor. Your doctor can figure out the underlying cause and more effectively target the treatment. If it is a migraine, there are several prescription treatments available. It may take some time finding the right plan for your headaches, but don’t give up. Once you find the right treatment, your lifestyle can be significantly improved.
Migraines can be treated both prophylactically and abortive. Prophylactic treatment means you take a medication everyday, like propranolol or Topamax, to prevent the development of headaches. Abortive therapy is a medication you take when you feel a headache coming on, usually a triptan like sumatriptan or an ergotamine, that actually stops the migraine. These are different from pain medications which only mask the symptoms. Abortive medication needs to be taken as soon as possible in order to prevent the migraine form developing. These are not pain medications that mask the symptoms, they actually abort the headache. If these treatment options fail, Botox injections can be used with great success every 3 months. Botox is only approved for chronic migraine sufferers that have 15 or more headaches per month, each lasting more than 4 hours. Ask your doctor about what treatment options are right for you.